Locking horns for the first time in nearly 30 years, the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles (10-2) and No. 18 Houston Cougars (12-1) hope to end their seasons with a victory in Thursday afternoon’s Peach Bowl from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
The Cougars own the all-time series record of 12-2-2, though these two squads haven’t face each other since 1978, when former Florida State and legendary head coach Bobby Bowden was just three years into his 43-year run in Tallahassee.
The Seminoles and sixth-year head coach Jimbo Fisher got used to playing for national championships the last two seasons, but letdowns at Georgia Tech and to College Football Playoff contender Clemson in a three-week span spoiled their chances of claiming an ACC title or a CFP berth.
But Florida State ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak, capped by a lopsided 27-2 win over rival Florida with running back Dalvin Cook charging ahead for 183 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Sean Maguire filling in for Everett Golson and tossing one touchdown.
After going 6-1 in seven straight starts to being the season, Golson suffered a head injury and eventually lost control of the starting job to Maguire. Now Golson didn’t even make the trip to Atlanta, reportedly for personal reasons, and Maguire gets to prove he deserves the starting nod next year.
The junior Maguire’s fired 1,128 yards for nine touchdowns to two interceptions, completing 62.1 percent of his attempts for a 145.1 passer rating in seven appearances and five starts.
Feeding Cook, who led the ACC with 1,658 yards and 18 touchdowns, will undoubted be Maguire’s top priority. But looking towards next season he can certainly build a stronger rapport with leading receivers Kermit Whitfield and Travis Rudolph.
Though there’s already evidence that Maguire’s on the same page with both. In his first start of the year Maguire hit the sophomore Rudolph five times for 191 yards and three scores in the 45-21 trouncing of Syracuse, and the junior Whitfield burned N.C. State for six receptions for 117 yards and two more scores. A week later Maguire connected with Whitfield two more times for touchdowns.
Yet Fisher may not want Maguire to engage in a shootout with the Cougars’ fleet-of-foot junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. Accumulating 2,590 passing yards and 16 touchdowns while also leading the team with 1,041 rushing yards and another 19 scores, Ward Jr. improved the Cougars win total by four compared to last year and posted their best record since 2011.
Houston ended the regular season by lighting up then-No. 15 Navy for 52 points and burned previous-No. 22 Temple for 24 points, which stood out as just the fifth time all season any team put up 20 or more points against the Owls 16th-ranked defense.
Start Time: Thursday, 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Betting Odds: Florida State -7
Over/Under: 55.5 points
Prediction: Florida State over Houston, 37-30