Oct. 28, 2002
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP)- On the flight here, Notre Dame’s players watched a tape of the school’s 1993 victory over Florida State, which put it in position to play for a national title.
After his team beat the Seminoles 34-24 Saturday, first-year Irish coach Tyrone Willingham contemplated in-flight entertainment for the trip home.
And here’s what popped into his mind: Show a tape from the following week in 1993 – when Notre Dame lost to Boston College.
That’s because this year’s 8-0 start, No. 4 ranking, and the victory over Florida State will mean nothing with a collapse next weekend.
Notre Dame’s win over the 11th-ranked Seminoles might just be enough to silence the remaining doubters. It solidified Notre Dame’s return to prominence and puts the Irish right in the thick of the national title picture.
Indeed, they received their first No. 1 vote in the AP Top 25 since 1997.
“We proved to the world how good they are,” Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden said Sunday. “Notre Dame is good, real good. They’re no fluke. You might be looking at a national champion.”
But a loss in the Irish’s final four games could end it all – just like in 1993.
Notre Dame’s next three games are against Boston College, Navy and Rutgers. The Irish were underdogs the last two weeks, but they probably will be favored by quite a bit in all three of those games. And with three victories, they would be 11-0 when they play at Southern Cal on Nov. 30.
A victory there could propel the Irish to the BCS title game.
“Over the years players in this program have been shocked by the criticism about us not having the athletes to compete with the top teams in the country,” receiver Arnaz Battle said. “It’s a blow to us because we have one of the top recruiting classes every year. We have athletes in this program to win big games and this year we’re just showing that.”
The Irish showed it against Florida State, much like they did against Maryland, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Air Force and others.
They won Saturday with strong defensive play and an opportunistic offense that thrives off turnovers.
The Irish added a new twist against the Seminoles, scoring on their first play of the game. Carlyle Holiday faked a handoff, rolled right and found Battle wide open down the sideline for a 65-yard score – a play the Irish knew they were going to open with four days before the game.
It silenced the record crowd of more than 84,000 at Doak Campbell Stadium and set the tone for the game.
“Right off the bat they scored and we had to play their game,” Bowden said.
The game was close until a four-minute span in the third quarter, when Notre Dame capitalized on three consecutive turnovers by Florida State and turned a 10-10 tie into a 27-10 lead.
Another score made it 34-10 and sent FSU’s fans to the exits.
“It proves that we’re back,” Holiday said. “It proves that we can go to a hostile environment and come out with a win. That shows what kind of team we are. We really want to be road warriors. That’s what makes championship teams who they are.”
When the game was over, green-clad fans – many wearing “Return To Glory” T-shirts – were scattered around the stadium.
Battle grabbed a handful of stadium grass and stuffed it into his pocket. “A little souvenir,” he said.
Not far away, Willingham was standing in the end zone and telling reporters, “I suppose this is our most impressive win – if all of you say so.”