Florida State (6-6) vs. West Virginia (9-3)
Jan. 1, 1 p.m., (CBS)
Florida State take by Heather Dinich: In the end, Gator Bowl president Rick Catlett got what he wanted, but will the product on the field match the off-field drama? Probably not. This is still a 6-6 Florida State team with one of the nation’s worst defenses. That hasn’t changed just because it will be the last game of Bobby Bowden’s career.
Considering that offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher has already begun to build his staff, it could be an awkward preparation period for those assistants who know their time in Tallahassee is coming to an end. If the staff isn’t on the same page heading into this game, how are the players supposed to be? And those are just the off-field issues.
Rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel, who took over late in the season for injured star Christian Ponder, will be making his first appearance in a bowl game. Sure, FSU has proven it can score, but the last time it was on the field, it suffered a humiliating 37-10 loss to rival Florida.
The Noles’ defense is ranked 108th in the country in rushing defense, 113 in pass efficiency defense and 110 in total defense, and 98 in scoring defense. West Virginia, led by Noel Devine, has the No. 2 rushing offense in the Big East, and leads the conference in pass efficiency defense.
This might be not turn out to be the celebratory sendoff Bowden supporters would like to see.
West Virginia take by Brian Bennett:Three weeks ago, the Mountaineers stood at 7-3 with an uncertain bowl future. They finished by winning their final two games to earn the Big East's second-best bowl spot and make it a nice season.
The West Virginia offense has lacked its usual firepower lately, failing to score more than 24 points in any of its final five games. But it remains a dangerous attack, thanks to quarterback Jarrett Brown's strong arm and scrambling ability and running back Noel Devine's capability of turning any play into a touchdown.
The cure for whatever has slowed that offense may arrive in the form of Florida State's 98th-ranked defense. The Seminoles haven't really been able to stop anybody since October.
The biggest boon for West Virginia the past few weeks has been its defense getting fully healthy, especially difference-making linebacker Reed Williams and safety Sidney Glover. They helped put the clamps on Pitt and Rutgers and hold Cincinnati to its lowest-scoring output of the season.
Of course, the storyline of this game will be all about Bobby Bowden coaching his last game for Florida State against the school that gave him his first Division I head coaching job. Current West Virginia coach Bill Stewart has a little bit of Bowden's folksy wisdom and down-to-earth style about him. And this year, he's got a better team.