Stats & Info: Brian Kelly

US Presswire/Matt CashoreCierre Wood (with ball) will be a player to watch in tonight's Citrus Bowl

Two of college football’s most prestigious programs may not have had the best of seasons, but both have significant reasons for wanting to win today’s Champs Sports Bowl matchup (ESPN, 5:30 ET).

Here’s a closer look at this matchup:

It’s the first meeting between the two storied programs since 2003 (a 37-0 win by FSU in South Bend). This is their second bowl meeting.

The first bowl meeting came in the Orange Bowl on January 1, 1996 when Florida State rallied from a 26-14 fourth-quarter deficit by scoring 17 points in the final 9:47 of the game for a 31-26 victory.

Overall, Florida State leads the series 4-2.

Florida State is 7-0-2 all-time in games played in Orlando. One of those games is a 23-16 win over Notre Dame on November 12, 1994. This is the Seminoles’ second appearance in the Champs Sports Bowl. They defeated Wisconsin 42-13 in the 2008 edition.

Keys to the Matchup
The biggest battle in this game will be Notre Dame rushing the football against one of the best run defenses in the country.

Florida State holds opponents to 2.3 yards per rush (fewest in FBS) because it does not allow opponents to gain yards in chunks.

Fewer than a quarter of Florida State opponents’ rushes gain five or more yards. The Seminoles have only allowed 104 rushes of at least five yards out of 423 attempts.

The Irish, led by Cierre Wood (1,042 yards) and Jonas Gray (791), rank 20th among FBS schools in yards per carry, netting just over five yards per rush. In fact, the team gains at least five yards on 43 percent of its rushes, the sixth-best rate among FBS schools.

Notre Dame will have to take care of the football. The Irish enter the game fifth-worst in the FBS in turnover margin, with a minus-13 turnover differential. Much of that is attributable to quarterback Tommy Rees, who has thrown 12 interceptions and lost five fumbles. In the past eight games, they've trimmed that differential to minus-3.

This will be the third bowl game and second start for Florida State QB E.J. Manuel. Manuel is 28-for-39 for 273 yards in two previous bowl appearances, with one touchdown throw and no interceptions.

Over the past four games, Manuel has thrown 83 passes and not thrown an interception.

Manuel’s success at throwing the long pass could be significant in this contest. In the three Seminoles losses in which he played, he was 1-for-12 with two interceptions when throwing the ball at least 20 yards downfield.

In his other games, he is 13-for-29 on pass attempts of at least 20 yards, with six touchdowns and one interception.

Stats of the Game
Florida State is appearing in a bowl game for the 30th consecutive season, the longest active streak in FBS (though the NCAA does not recognize FSU’s 2006 Emerald Bowl).

Brian Kelly is trying to become the first coach in Notre Dame history to win bowl games in each of his first two seasons there.

Keep in mind, the Fighting Irish did not play in a bowl from the 1926-68 seasons because of a self-imposed bowl ban.

Nickel Package: Notre Dame's bad luck

September, 23, 2010
1. All of the preseason top 8 teams are still unbeaten, and Alabama (at Arkansas) is the only team out of that group that isn't a double-digit favorite this week. If all are victorious, it will be only the second time that the preseason top 8 have gone undefeated into October. The first time was 1952, when the season opened on Sept. 27. Even then, one of the teams had a tie on the first weekend.

2. You'd think it would take Nick Saban more than three-and-a-half seasons in Tuscaloosa to equal any of Bear Bryant's accomplishments there, but he's now a win away from a fairly significant one. Going back to last season, Alabama has been ranked No. 1 in the last six AP polls. Believe it or not, that’s just one shy of the school record for consecutive weeks at No. 1, achieved by Bryant's teams in both 1979 and 1980.

3. Here are a few eye-popping numbers on Joe Paterno's tenure as Penn State head coach. Since he took over that job in 1966, there have been 876 head-coaching changes in major-college football. Twenty-two active head coaches in the FBS weren't even born then. And, in Penn State’s game against Kent State last Saturday, Beaver Stadium attendance during Paterno's time as head coach surpassed 23 million (23,098,439 to be exact). That's more than the population of Australia.

4. Even with an Irish head coach, Notre Dame hasn't been able to improve in the luck department this season. After back-to-back tough losses to Michigan and Michigan State, ND now has eight straight defeats by seven points or fewer - the longest active streak in the nation. That's one more than Iowa, which had some tough luck of its own last weekend at Arizona.

5. A Michigan win Saturday against Bowling Green would make the Wolverines 4-0 for the second straight season. Even before recently falling on rough times, back-to-back 4-0 starts wasn't exactly a common occurrence in Ann Arbor. The last time Michigan started consecutive seasons at 4-0 was 1995-97. Before that it was 1985-86, and then 1976-78 prior to that. In other words, it happens about once a decade.
Michigan has had more than its usual share of troubles the last two years, but there is one bad trend that goes back a decade. The Wolverines have lost their opening road game in eight of the past 10 seasons, three of them in South Bend.

On the other hand, Brian Kelly brings a personal 19-game regular-season win streak into Saturday's game against Michigan. Kelly's last regular season loss came at Connecticut in October 2008 when he was Cincinnati's head coach.

That win streak for Kelly is the second-longest active streak in the nation. On Monday night, Chris Petersen of Boise State extended his regular-season win streak to 26 games, having not lost a scheduled game since a 2007 trip to Hawaii. The other leaders on that list all have national championship hopes: Mack Brown (17), Nick Saban (14) and Gary Patterson (14). Brian Kelly is the only coach to forge this long a streak with more than one school.