After the Michigan State Spartans delivered a death blow to the Ohio State Buckeyes' national championship hopes on Saturday night, the final touches were placed on a seemingly ever-changing BCS title matchup.
The official announcement hasn't been made, but barring some sort of computer malfunction, the Auburn Tigers will rise to No. 2 in the BCS standings and face the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles for the national championship. Almost by default, this is one of the most intriguing bowl matchups on tap for fans of college football.
Like any great matchup, there are questions aplenty. Besides the obvious prize at stake, what makes Auburn vs. Florida State so interesting? Let's take a look at the key question in the BCS title matchup and two other compelling potential bowl pairings.
Can the 'Noles Slow Down the Tigers' Run Game?
Every once in a while a team comes along with a predictable offense that no opponent can seem to contain. Do you think Missouri didn't know a heavy dose of Tre Mason was coming Saturday night in the SEC title game? Sure it did, but it just didn't matter.
Mason ran for 304 yards on 46 carries and the Tigers racked up a whopping 545 total yards on the ground. Missouri's run defense was ranked in the top 20 in the nation before the SEC championship. After Mason and Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall were done with them, the Mizzou's ranking dipped to 48th.
Florida State has the athletes upfront to potentially do a better job, but so did Alabama.
Auburn ran for 296 yards against the Tide in its thrilling 34-28 win a week ago. If the Noles can't stop Mason and the Tigers on the ground, it will put tremendous pressure on Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense to keep pace.
Which Defense Will Reign Supreme at Rose Bowl?
The Spartans and the Stanford Cardinal are on a collision course for the Rose Bowl and defense is the common theme for both teams. Michigan State has the nation's top-rated defense. In Saturday's Big-Ten title game it contained a Ohio State attack that ranks seventh in the nation.
The Buckeyes were just 1-for-10 on third downs and former Heisman candidate Braxton Miller completed only 8-of-21 pass attempts for 101 yards. He did run for 147 yards and two scores as the Bucks mounted a furious second-half comeback.
Still, the Spartans proved their defense was for real against an upper-echelon offensive unit. When it faces the Cardinal in the Rose Bowl, the Spartans will be looking at a team with a similar makeup.
Stanford's defense is its calling card and the unit has seemingly gotten better later in the season. The Cardinal shut down Oregon on Nov. 7. The Cardinal's Pac-12 rival had looked unstoppable before Stanford held them to 20 points and just 62 yards on the ground. Both totals were far beneath the 46.8 and 276.8 Oregon averaged this season, respectively.
In November, the Cardinal allowed just 55 rushing yards per game compared to 102.7 in October. The defense is peaking at the right time and this matchup figures to be hard-hitting and low-scoring.
Which Defense Will Show Up at Cotton Bowl?
Both the Missouri Tigers and Oklahoma State Cowboys' defense have had their ups and downs. Unfortunately for them, the Tigers less-than stellar moment came in the SEC championship. Oklahoma State had a similar breakdown against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 finale. The Cowboys gave up 33 points to Oklahoma on Saturday.
Both lackluster performances cost the two teams a BCS bowl berth.
It would appear the Tigers and Cowboys are headed for a date in the Cotton Bowl, but which defense will stand up and be counted? On paper, it would appear the Cowboys have the edge. Their defense ranks 47th in the nation as opposed to the Tigers whose 'D' ranks 70th—though the numbers took a hit at the hands of Auburn.
There is no question both teams can score points. The Cowboys rank 14th and Tigers 15th in points per game.
However, the winner of this game will be decided by the defensive unit that gets the key stops and forces turnovers. It should be a shootout.
Stat references per CFBStats.com