Several media experts have already begun making preseason projections for this year’s bowl slate, with a wide variety of choices for the 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl.
Bill Bender (Sporting News): Notre Dame vs. Kansas State
Ralph Russo (AP Sports): Florida State vs. Kansas State
Mark Schlabach (ESPN): Georgia Tech vs. Oklahoma State
Brett McMurphy (ESPN): Florida State vs. Texas
Brian Pedersen (Bleacher Report): Georgia Tech vs. West Virginia
Steven Lassan (Athlon Sports): Notre Dame vs. West Virginia
There’s no clear favorite this early in the season, with Florida State, Georgia Tech, Kansas State, Notre Dame and West Virginia each receiving two selections each to appear in Orlando.
Of those five, Kansas State is the only team without any prior appearances in the Russell Athletic Bowl and its predecessors. Bill Snyder has led the team to five consecutive bowl appearances, most recently the Valero Alamo Bowl in 2014-15. Their projected Orlando opponents are Florida State and Notre Dame. The Wildcats are 0-3 all-time against the Seminoles, with the most recent game coming in 1977. Kansas State and Notre Dame would be a first-time meeting.
Florida State and Notre Dame both made their last Orlando appearances as opponents in 2011, a game the Seminoles rallied to win 18-14. That game was Notre Dame’s first Orlando bowl appearance. With Notre Dame now affiliated with the ACC for scheduling and bowl placements, the two teams are more likely to meet in the regular season as they did last season. Former Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who was a redshirt during the 2011 game and who nearly rallied the Irish in last season’s game against FSU, will now suit up for the ‘Noles after transferring in the offseason. Florida State is 3-0-1 all-time in the Russell Athletic Bowl and 4-1-1 in all Orlando bowl games (including the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl). They are no strangers to Orlando and will play two games here in 2016 – their spring football game in April and the inaugural Orlando Kickoff vs. Ole Miss in September.
Each of the predictions for Florida State and Notre Dame feature a first-time meeting (Texas and Kansas State, respectively) and a team to whom the have never lost; FSU is 3-0 all-time against Kansas State while Notre Dame is 4-0 all-time against West Virginia.
The West Virginia Mountaineers last appeared in Orlando in 2010 as a member of the then-Big East, where they fell to a Russell Wilson-led NC State team. They are 0-3 all-time in the Russell Athletic Bowl game, with one of the losses coming to Georgia Tech in 1997 when the game was played in Miami. The ‘Eers are 1-2 all-time against the Yellow Jackets, with their win in the series coming in the most recent game, the 2007 Gator Bowl.
Georgia Tech holds a 2-0 record in the Russell Athletic Bowl, making their second bowl appearance in 2004 after the game had been moved to Orlando. They thumped new ACC addition Syracuse when the Orange were still a member of the then-Big East. The Yellow Jackets also have another prominent postseason appearance in Orlando, winning the 1991 Florida Citrus Bowl (precursor to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl) to win a share of that season’s national championship. The Jackets will celebrate the 25th anniversary of that team this season.
The other two Big 12 teams to appear in preseason projections, Texas and Oklahoma State, have never appeared in Orlando for a postseason game. Both are predicted for first-time meetings as Texas has never played Florida State and Oklahoma State has never played Georgia Tech.