SCOTTSDALE, Ariz – Older. Maybe a little wiser. Definitely more relaxed this time.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly almost coached against each other in a major bowl once before today’s Fiesta Bowl.
After the 2009 season, an undefeated Cincinnati team was matched up with 2008 national champion Florida in the Sugar Bowl after the Gators’ hopes of repeating were dashed by a loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game.
But Kelly never made it to the Sugar Bowl when he was hired by Notre Dame 10 days before the game and left UC immediately.
Some people in Cincinnati still haven’t forgiven Kelly for his abrupt exit.
That year’s Sugar Bowl was also the backdrop for Meyer announcing he would resign for health reasons and then walking that decision back a day later and saying he would take an indefinite leave of absence.
Those announcements, Meyer eventually leaving Florida after the 2010 season and his return to coaching in 2012 at Ohio State left some Gators fans so angry that they still blame him for tropical storms, bad traffic on I-95, fire ants, Palmetto bugs and every other annoyance of life in the Sunshine State.
Florida won that Sugar Bowl 51-24 behind quarterback Tim Tebow, who passed for 482 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another TD against Cincinnati and interim coach Jeff Quinn.
Today’s game should be different in at least three ways. It should be closer. There will be less coaching turmoil, though there have been rumors of the New York Giants being interested in Kelly. And, with the College Football Playoff in place, there is probably less excitement around this and any other bowl outside the four-team playoff.
It’s just a fact of life in college football in 2016. But matching Ohio State against Notre Dame is about as good as it gets outside the playoff. Especially when one team is the defending national champion, who narrowly missed qualifying for the playoff, and the other came within six points of earning a spot in it.
Notre Dame and Ohio State don’t play often. The Buckeyes’ 34-20 win in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2005 season is the last time the two teams faced each other.
Ohio State won regular-season games in 1995 and 1996 and Notre Dame came out on top in 1935 and 1936 in the only other games the two teams have played against each other. The two schools have agreed to a contract for regular-season games in 2022 and 2023.
This game could turn into the close match-up most people expect it to be or it could turn one-sided in a hurry if OSU shows up highly motivated and Notre Dame’s long list of injured players finally catches up with it.
Since last summer, the Fighting Irish have lost last season’s top two rushers, Tarean Folston (knee) and Greg Bryant (academics), starting quarterback Malik Zaire (broken leg), tight end Durham Smythe (knee), nose guard Jarron Jones (knee) and cornerback Kei’Vare Russell (broken leg) for the season or most of the season.
And it didn’t stop after they got to Arizona. Russell’s replacement, Devin Butler, broke a foot in practice and safety Max Redfield was sent home, reportedly for being late repeatedly.
There is no doubt there is a lot of talent on both rosters. Kelly said this game could attract more NFL general managers and scouts than any other bowl game this season.
Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa will be drafted in the first round and Ezekiel Elliott could be the first running back selected. Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith, the Butkus Award winner, and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will be first-round choices, according to all the mock drafts. And many more players from both rosters will hear their names called.
It won’t be the ending Ohio State envisioned. It won’t be magic, like the confetti covered celebration after the national championship game last year. But Ohio State will send its seniors and the several juniors who will enter the NFL draft out with a win.
The prediction: Ohio State 35, Notre Dame 27
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.