Start Time: 11:00 am CST, Thursday December 31
Location: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
Records: FSU: 10-2. Houston: 12-1. Houston leads Florida State 12-2-2 all-time.
Live Stats: here.
Line: FSU -7, O/U 54.5
It's been a wild season for the Houston Cougars. Head coach Tom Herman has brought the program to heights that it hasn't seen since Case Keenum was torching defenses in the Third Ward. You can get caught up on the team's journey to a New Year Eve's Bowl here. Let's get down to the gritty details by taking a look at what to expect when each team has the ball:
When Houston has the ball
Houston's offensive performance this season is really strong so it's extremely impressive that Florida State can command an edge in the most important statistical categories on our chart. One major area to watch is Houston's ability to generate explosive plays. The Cougars are ranked in the top 40 in generating big plays on offense but Florida State is truly exceptional at preventing gains of 20+ yards thanks to their athletic secondary. It may be difficult for Houston to win match ups against the Seminole's range in the secondary where freshman Derwin James causes havoc.
Few teams have done a better job this season defending against the pass than the Seminoles. Led by defensive end DeMarcus Walker, Florida State is constantly collapsing passing pockets and causing opposing quarterbacks to let go of the ball early. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. will need to be slippery both in and out of the pocket to give his Cougars a chance at the upset.
When Florida State has the ball
The story is similar on this side. Houston's quite good but Florida State is statistically superior in almost all key areas. Powered by super-star sophomore Dalvin Cook, Florida State can depend on its run game to put points on the board. Cook is one of the most electric backs in the nation but he's also dependable as he's yet to lose a fumble on the year.
While the Seminoles are exceptional on the ground, Houston is no slouch against the run. They held Navy's triple option attack to just 147 rushing yards this season, essentially removing any faint hope for a Heisman ceremony invitation for Keenan Reynolds. Houston's best chance at shackling the Florida State offense is to force the Seminoles to score through the air where they score much less efficiently than when Cook is rushing the ball. Linebacker Elandon Roberts will have a lot of weight on his shoulders in limiting Cook's ability to break away from defense. Roberts will need to take clean angles of pursuit to prevent Cook from hitting the edge and turning up the field for big gains.
Prediction: With an electric quarterback and a lovable coach, it's so easy to root for Houston. I can easily do a ton of mental gymnastics to convince myself that the Cougars have a real shot at winning this game. The Peach Bowl assignment was likely a huge disappointment for the Seminoles so they may be lacking in motivation. This season has been a bit of a dream for Houston and the Cougars will be fired up to place the final cherry on top of 2015.
Intangibles aside, I can't shake the feeling that Florida State is simply too physically outstanding for Houston to have a fair shake. Dalvin Cook will pound Houston's defense into submission, giving Florida State an advantage in game control. With the Cougars racking up four-star recruits, they'll have the physicality to win these games in the coming years. Unfortunately for the Cougars, Tom Herman doesn't have the horses to pull this one out.
Florida State 30, Houston 21