The final installment of the BCS National Championship Game could shape up to be one of the best, largely because it’s got everything you want in a great sports setting: two schools with championship pedigrees. Jimbo Fisher’s Florida State Seminoles were ranked 11th in the preseason before climbing into the top-5 in week eight and eventually overtaking Alabama (thanks to Auburn) for the top spot in week 15.
The Auburn Tigers, coached by Coach of the Year Winner Gus Malzahn, could theoretically be viewed as the underdog, if it weren’t for the dominant season the Tigers have had. After starting the season unranked due to finishing 2012 with a 3-9 record, Auburn found their stride after a week 4 loss to LSU, and finished the year on a 9-0 winning streak which saw the Tigers knock Alabama out of the top seed for the first time since Nick Saban put on his gardening hat and said “Roll Tide.”
It’s got a Heisman winner—the youngest in history—in the Seminoles’ charismatic and controversial freshman QB Jameis Winston. But Auburn has the weapons to match Winston in running back Tre Mason (finished 6th in Heisman voting) and QB Nick Marshall, who accounted for three scores in the Tigers’ wild Iron Bowl victory over Alabama.
Although Vegas odds-makers have placed Florida State as a 13-point favorite over Auburn on a neutral field, many analysts believe the game will be closer than that. It’s so tough to predict what Auburn is capable of since Malzahn’s play calling is so frenetic and he’s got the pieces in the offense to match. Even though Auburn is overwhelmingly one-dimensional on offense, it’s difficult to call them “one-dimensional” because it implies a lack of dynamism that the Tigers definitely aren’t lacking.
Florida State’s defense is ranked second in the nation only to Alabama, and Auburn showed all of college football that it could hang with the Crimson Tide. The ‘Noles will have to play smart and stay at home against the Tigers’ read option. Marshall may not throw the ball as often as many of his contemporaries, but he rarely makes the wrong decision, and Auburn’s offense features plenty of motion and misdirection; if defenders get caught watching or get caught out of position, Marshall will have a heyday.
Unfortunately for Auburn, their greatest weakness is Florida State’s greatest strength. Jameis Winston didn’t win the Heisman for nothing. He won it because he absolutely shredded defenses all year long. Based off of Auburn’s 79th ranking in overall defense, one would feel safe to assume that the Tigers have a pretty bad defensive unit. The truth though, is that Auburn’s front seven is actually a pretty deep and solid unit, which means the secondary is dragging down the ranking.
Winston and his deep stable of wide receivers have shown a penchant for making big plays this year, and Auburn’s secondary has shown a penchant for allowing them. In particular, look for Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin as a likely candidate to have a big game, the reasons being twofold. First, Benjamin was second on the team with 957 receiving yards and led the Seminoles with 14 receiving touchdowns. Secondly, from a physical standpoint, Benjamin (6’5,” 234 lbs.) compares favorably to Texas A&M’s Mike Evans (6’5,” 225 lbs.) and Evans abused the Auburn secondary to the tune of 11 receptions, 287 yards and 4 TDs earlier this season.
The SEC has been so dominant during the final years of the BCS that it almost feels silly to bet against Auburn. Part of me believes wholeheartedly that they’ll not only win, but do so going away. A final parting victory a lá the dominant performances of SEC champions past, like when LSU and Florida dismantled Ohio State. Or when the Gators again embarrassed a Heisman-winning quarterback in Sam Bradford and Oklahoma. Or Alabama’s games against Texas, Notre Dame and LSU (not for nothing, right?).
That being said, I’m taking the kid in this one. Auburn’s rushing attack is impressive, but their secondary is…just…awful. Conversely, Florida State is a much more well-rounded team with a top-notch defense, a highly explosive offense, and the best player in college football.
FLORIDA STATE OVER AUBURN, 38-21
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