Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State 18, Notre Dame 14.
Florida State just rallied from a fourth quarter deficit to defeat a recognizable opponent in a bowl game, which can only mean one thing: Eight months of offseason hype, leading to the Seminoles' near-unanimous installation as ACC favorites and darkhorse contenders for the national title next season. You know the drill.
Here's how it's going to go in 2012:
• They're finally clicking on all cylinders! With tonight's comeback, the 'Noles close with seven wins in their last eight following a three-game losing streak in the first half of the season, a streak that includes convincing wins over Miami and Florida and a 34-0 rout of N.C. State. The only loss since early October: A one-point stumble against Virginia on Nov. 19.
• E.J. Manuel is back! FSU's early struggles came with the starting quarterback ailing or absent: Manuel was knocked out of the loss to Oklahoma, missed all of the loss at Clemson and clearly wasn't at 100 percent in the loss at Wake Forest. When healthy, he was one of the most efficient passers in the ACC as a first-year starter, and goes out on five consecutive games without an interception.
• The defense is awesome! Mark Stoops' unit looked and played like a vintage Florida State D all year, finishing atop the ACC (and among the top 10 nationally) in rushing defense, total defense, scoring defense, sacks and tackles for loss. Notre Dame is the fifth opponent in the last six games to leave with at least three turnovers, and the eighth in a row that failed to reach 20 points. Seventeen of the top 20 tacklers will be back.
• They're so young! The defense is positively grizzled compared to the offense, which is about as green as it gets: The leading rusher (Devonta Freeman) and two of the top three receivers (Rashad Greene and Christian Green) were only freshmen, as was the starting tight end (Nick O'Leary) and three regular starters on the offensive line. Major contributors will be back at every position.
• They're so talented! FSU has never ceded its crown as the premier recruiting power in the ACC, and the incoming crop in 2012 — currently featuring the most hyped quarterback prospect since Matt Barkley, Hueytown, Ala., star Jameis Winston — will be the third in a row that lands among the top 10 classes in the nation. Including that group, the 'Noles' roster will include eight players who arrived with a 5-star rating from Rivals and 22 who were ranked among the top 100 overall recruits in their respective class.
Convinced yet? Give it a few months. You'll come around. More importantly, the preseason punditry will come around. Just like clockwork.