Oct. 23, 2002
By JOHN TORENLI
AP MegaSports Writer
The Bowl Championship Series has made it clear that it recognizes Notre Dame as a legitimate national title contender.
Now, the sixth-ranked Fighting Irish will try to prove they deserve the BCS’ No. 3 rating as they visit Tallahassee to take on No. 11 Florida State on Saturday.
The BCS released its first computer-generated standings on Monday, and listed only Oklahoma and top-ranked Miami ahead of Notre Dame (7-0), which is off to its best start since 1993, when it won 10 in a row to start the season.
The Irish, owners of the toughest schedule in the nation according to the BCS, bolstered their rating with last Saturday’s impressive 21-14 victory at previously unbeaten Air Force.
Ryan Grant rushed for 190 yards and a touchdown and the Irish defense continued to smother its opponents, holding the Falcons’ high-powered offense to just seven points and 104 yards rushing – 253 below its season average.
First-year Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham hasn’t taken long to revitalize one of the nation’s most storied programs, but even he realizes that the BCS’ high rating won’t mean much if the Irish can’t get past the Seminoles this weekend.
“All of our focus right now is on the Florida State game this week,” Willingham said. “However, it’s certainly better to be ranked than not ranked.”
Notre Dame’s offense, one of the least productive in the nation entering the Air Force game, had an impressive showing against the Falcons’ undersized defense, gaining a season-high 447 total yards.
“I think our offensive line, our backs, our entire offensive team did an excellent job of execution,” said Willingham, who is just the third coach in Notre Dame history to win his first seven games, joining Jesse Harper (1913-13) and Ara Parseghian (1964).
“We eliminated a lot of the mistakes we’ve had in previous weeks.”
The Seminoles (5-2) had a bye last weekend after a heartbreaking 28-27 loss at No. 1 Miami on Oct. 12.
Greg Jones rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown as Florida State went a long way toward proving that the defending national champions could, indeed, be beaten. But Xavier Beitia missed a potential game-winning 43-yard field goal in the closing moments, dashing the Seminoles’ hopes of knocking the rival Hurricanes off and all but ending their own chances for a national championship.
“I simply can’t believe we lost the game like that again,” said Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who has watched his school lose four games to Miami on missed field goals since 1991.
“I thought we had it. I went out to shake (Beitia’s) hand. I thought he hit it. I’ve had that picture so many times before in my career. I can’t stand it. Our kids don’t deserve to lose this game.”
This will be the fifth meeting between Notre Dame and Florida State and first at Tallahassee.
The Seminoles last faced the Irish in the 1996 Orange Bowl, emerging with a 31-26 come-from-behind victory on the strength of two fourth-quarter touchdown passes by Danny Kannell.
Bowden, whose Seminoles earned 12th place in the BCS standings, has no qualms with Notre Dame’s top-three rating.
“Notre Dame is a solid football team,” Bowden said. “They are as good as their ranking and are very deserving. They have gotten stronger as the year has gone on. They have gotten better offensively to go along with their defense. They’re good.”