December 30, 2014

No. 14 Houston (12-1) vs. No. 9 Florida State (10-2), Thursday, Noon. (ESPN)

Line: Florida State by 7

Series Record: Houston leads 12-2-1.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

For Houston and the American Athletic Conference, respect is on the line. Though coach Tom Herman says his team already has proven it belongs in one of the six games in the College Football Playoff, a lopsided loss would support doubters who refused to rank the Cougars higher despite having only one loss. Florida State's seniors could become only the second class in the nation with 50 wins, following Boise State (2008-11).

KEY MATCHUP

Houston ranks 12th in the nation with 40.6 points per game while Florida State is sixth in scoring defense, allowing 15.8 points. A key for the Seminoles has been a revived pass rush. One year after ranking 108th in the nation with 17 sacks, Florida State has 30 sacks. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker has 10 1/2 sacks.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Houston: The Cougars' only loss to Connecticut came without QB Greg Ward Jr., who was injured. Ward emerged as one of the nation's top dual-threat players as he ranked third in the nation with 19 rushing TDs while throwing for 16 scores.

Florida State: RB Dalvin Cook set a school record with 1,658 yards rushing - more than 400 yards more than Warrick Dunn's old mark set in 1995. Cook ran for 18 touchdowns and ranks second in the nation with 7.86 yards per carry. Only a sophomore, Cook already is fifth in the school's career rushing leaders.

FACTS & FIGURES

Florida State is playing in a bowl game for the 34th consecutive season, the nation's longest streak. The Seminoles' all-time bowl record is 27-15-2. ... Houston won the last meeting between the schools, 27-21 at Florida State in 1978. ... This is Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher's fifth appearance in the Atlanta bowl, including his time as Auburn's quarterbacks coach in 1997, LSU's offensive coordinator in 2000 and 2005 and at FSU in 2010. His teams won each of the previous four games. ... Houston is playing for its second 13-win season. It finished 13-1 in 2011. ... FSU S Derwin James has 77 tackles, tied for fourth-most by a freshman in school history. ... Houston is second nationally with seven wins by 21 or more points. ... The Cougars are 10-12-1 in bowl games. ... When ranked, Houston is 3-1 against Florida State.

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AP College Football website: collegefootball.ap.org

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