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Florida State vs. Houston — Everything You Need to Know for the Peach Bowl

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AAC champ Houston crashes the major bowl party against a Florida State team playing in its fourth straight New Year’s Six bowl.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl

December 31, 12 p.m. ET (ESPN)

No. 18 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2)

How They Got Here

Houston received an at-large bid after winning the American Athletic Conference title and finishing as the highest ranked “Group of Five” champion. Florida State fell short of its goal of a fourth straight ACC championship but still earned an at-large bid after finishing ninth in the final CFP rankings.

When Florida State Has the Ball

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook led the ACC in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and yards per carry despite playing through nagging ankle and hamstring injuries. With a month to rest and heal, he should be ready to go against a challenging Cougar defense that ranks 12th nationally against the run.

If Houston has a weak spot, it’s a pass defense that ranks 111th nationally, giving up more than 265 yards per game. That’s good news for junior Sean Maguire, who will be making his fifth start of the season (1,128 yards and nine touchdowns) after taking the reins from Everett Golson (who did not make the trip to the bowl game for “personal reasons”). The Seminoles are 3-1 in Maguire’s starts and he helped rally Florida State to another victory after coming off the bench against North Carolina State.

When Houston Has the Ball

The Cougars feature one of the nation’s most balanced offenses, averaging 247 passing yards and 239 yards on the ground per game. But while the offense is not one-dimensional, it is focused around the talents of dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. The junior has thrown for nearly 2,600 yards this year while rushing for over 1,000 more. He has scored 35 touchdowns and, under his leadership, the Cougars are averaging nearly 41 points per game (11th best nationally). However, he’s never faced a unit like the Seminoles, who boast several future NFLers and rank fifth nationally in scoring defense (15.8 points per game).

Key to the Game

The Cougars boast one of the nation’s better rush defenses, but they have never faced a runner of Dalvin Cook’s caliber. If Cook can run effectively and help open up the field for Maguire, Houston could be in for a long night. While Houston has other talented players, the Cougars will only go as far as Greg Ward can carry them. Although he is a solid passer, he is at his best when the run game can spread the field. For Houston to have a chance to pull off the upset, Ward and running back Kenneth Farrow (949 yards and 12 touchdowns) will have to make some plays on the ground to open up the passing game.

But motivation could be a factor–this is one of the biggest games in Houston’s history, so the Cougars will be fired up for this one. But after falling short of their goals of a fourth straight ACC title and a playoff spot, can the Seminoles say the same?

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