Houston coach Tom Herman is dunked with water during the closing seconds of the American Athletic Conference championship football game against Temple, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Houston. Houston won 24-13. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip
December 06, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) Florida State has gotten used to playing for national championships.

Jimbo Fisher considers the Peach Bowl a good consolation prize.

After coming up short in the national race, the No. 9 Seminoles learned Sunday they will face up-and-coming Houston in the New Year's Eve bowl at the Georgia Dome.

Their coach said it's quite an accomplishment considering the inexperience of his team, which had to replace many of the stalwarts from last year's squad, which reached the College Football Playoff on the heels of a national championship run in 2013.

''We've had a tremendous season,'' Fisher said. ''This very young football team has grown all year, gotten better and better and better. To get to a New Year's Six bowl is a great honor for these kids. A tremendous accomplishment.''

It's certainly an accomplishment for No. 14 Houston, which earned a spot in a major bowl as the top-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences. The Cougars won the American Athletic Conference on Saturday, beating Temple in the championship game.

''The guys worked really hard over the last 11 or 12 months to get here,'' rookie coach Tom Herman said. ''As rewarding as winning our conference championship was, the knowledge that the reward extends farther into a New Year's Six bowl game is even that much more gratifying.''

Florida State (10-2, No. 9 CFP) won its first six games and was in the national championship mix until a shocking 22-16 loss at Georgia Tech - the Yellow Jackets' only Atlantic Coast Conference win of the season. The Seminoles were beaten by a 78-yard return of a blocked field goal on the final play of the game.

The other loss was a lot more understandable. Fisher's team fell 23-13 at No. 1 Clemson, which went on to capture the ACC title and earn the top seed in this season's playoff, joined by Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma.

''That (Georgia Tech game) was such a tough loss, and a very dynamic way to do it,'' Fisher said. ''We could have pouted, felt sorry for ourselves, or we could learn from it and grow. I think we did. The second half of the season, we played our most complete football, our best football. That's a tribute to our seniors, their leadership, and our young guys for buying into the culture of playing champ football. I'm extremely proud of our guys buying into that.''

Herman, who came to Houston after serving on Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State, had to persuade his team he could take them to a higher level. The Cougars went 21-17 the last three seasons under Tony Levine, settling for a pair of minor bowl games.

An early win over Louisville helped to win over his skeptical players ''that this staff and this culture and the way we go about our business might actually work.''


What to watch for when Florida State takes on Houston:

DYNAMIC WARD: The Cougars are led by quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who has rushed for a team-leading 1,047 yards with 19 touchdowns and passed for 2,589 yards, with 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions. It will be intriguing to see how he performs against the best defense he's seen all year.

COOKING UP YARDS: Dalvin Cook is the player who makes the Seminoles go, running for 18 touchdowns and setting a school record with 1,658 yards on the ground. The Cougars have been stout against the run, surrendering 116 yards per game.

SEMINOLES SIGNAL CALLER: The Seminoles will stick with Sean Maguire as their starting quarterback. He took over when transfer Everett Golson went down with a head injury, and played well enough to keep the job. ''Sean is definitely the starter going in,'' Fisher said. ''We have two excellent quarterbacks. We feel good about both guys.''

BIG STAGE: Houston will be playing in its first major postseason game since the 1985 Cotton Bowl. Herman will have to make sure his team doesn't get overwhelmed by the spotlight, especially facing one of the nation's most storied programs.

STEPPING STONE: Both coaches say a victory in this game would be an important step toward getting the 2016 season off to a good start, but a victory would probably mean more to Houston. ''It would energize our fan base, it would energize the city of Houston. If would give us another feather in the cap of what is already turning into a pretty good recruiting class.''


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .


AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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