After a wild year filled with upsets, the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles and the No. 2 Auburn Tigers have risen to the top and will meet in Pasadena, Calif. on Jan. 6, 2014 to play for the national championship.
The Seminoles (13-0) have been college football's most dominant team, winning their games by an average of 42 points. Redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been sensational, leading Florida State to a perfect record by throwing for 3,820 yards yards and 38 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions.
The Tigers (12-1) have been this year's team of destiny. Back-to-back miracle victories in November over Georgia and Alabama sent Auburn to the SEC title game where it bulldozed the Missouri Tigers with 545 rushing yards in a 59-42 victory.
It completed one of the most improbable turnarounds in college football history as Auburn was just one year removed from losing nine games.
Michigan State's upset of the previously undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship vaulted the Tigers to the No. 2 spot, and in turn, the national championship.
Get all of the details of this matchup, including keys to victory for each team, notable quotes and a prediction with this complete game preview.
Date: Monday, Jan. 6
Time: 8:30 p.m. EST
Place: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Spread: Florida State is favored by six points, according to Odds Shark
Be Methodical on Offense
Statistically, Florida State's defense is one of the best in the country. The Seminoles have held teams to just 10.7 points on average, which ranks first in the country.
Against the Tigers, Florida State's best defense could be keeping its offense on the field.
The Seminoles have one of the most efficient offenses in the country, and if they can sustain long touchdown drives, it will help keep keep Gus Malzahn and the Tigers from establishing the pace with their quick-strike, uptempo offense.
Florida State doesn't need to play keep away—it has the ability to outscore anyone in the country—but it certainly wouldn't hurt to keep Auburn's offense off the field.
Swarm on Defense
When the defense is on the field, it will be facing the most explosive offense it has seen all season.
Florida State only allows 116.5 rushing yards per game, which ranks 14th in the country, but it will be facing a different beast in Auburn.
The Tigers' dynamic rushing attack puts pressure on a defense horizontally, so the Seminoles will need to swarm to the perimeter when Auburn goes wide. The team that did that with the most success this season was LSU, limiting Auburn to 213 rushing yards in its only loss of the year.
If Florida State swarms to the ball and can get the Tigers' dangerous playmakers on the ground at first contact, its chances of winning the title will go up dramatically.
Run, Run and Run Some More
Auburn's biggest strength is its offense, and more specifically, its rushing attack.
The Tigers are coming off an impressive victory over Missouri in a performance that set an SEC title record with 677 total yards, 545 of which came on the ground.
That came against a defense that was previously allowing just 119 rushing yards per game. The week before, Auburn hung 296 rushing yards on Nick Saban's Alabama defense.
Gus Malzahn doesn't try to hide the fact that he wants to run the ball. Over Auburn's last five games, quarterback Nick Marshall has averaged just 13.6 passes.
Frankly, Marshall hasn't needed to throw it much recently. The Tigers' running game has surged down the stretch. During that same five-game run, Auburn has averaged 368 rushing yards per game.
To beat Florida State, the Tigers will need to continue their momentum on the ground.
Pressure Jameis Winston
In 13 games, no one on Florida State's schedule was able to knock quarterback Jameis Winston out of his comfort zone. If the Tigers can consistently get after the redshirt freshman quarterback, it will largely increase their chances in this game.
Getting after the quarterback hasn't been something Auburn has done tremendously well this year.
The Tigers currently rank 56th in the country with 2.15 sacks per game, but protecting Winston is something Florida State has struggled with. The Seminoles give up an average of two sacks per game, which is 76th worse in the country.
Senior defensive end Dee Ford leads Auburn with 8.5 sacks. He will need to lead the charge off the edge to make Winston uncomfortable.
No one can take pressure off Jameis Winston in Florida State's offense more than Devonta Freeman.
The 5'9", 203-pound junior running back earned first team All-ACC honors after running for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns. Freeman is averaging nearly six yards per carry and paces a running game that perfectly complements Winston's throwing ability.
Freeman will be going up against an Auburn defense that is allowing 163 yards per game, which ranks 64th in the country. If Winston gets going early, look for Freeman to keep Auburn's defense off balance.
Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner might be Florida State's most disruptive defender, but against Auburn, the play of defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will be key.
Jernigan joined Freeman in garnering all-conference honors, making the second-team defense after an outstanding junior campaign. The 6'2", 290-pounder ranks fifth on the team with 44 tackles, which is rare for a defensive tackle.
Jernigan will be key, though, because of his ability to get into the backfield. He leads the team 10.5 tackles for loss, which includes 4.5 sacks.
Nothing limits a potent rushing attack like a disruptive force in the middle, and that's exactly what Jernigan is.
Nick Marshall/Tre Mason
Auburn's offense—and by extension, the entire team—runs through the two-headed monster backfield of Nick Marshall and Tre Mason.
The Marshall/Mason pair have been ripping defenses all season, but the two really hit their stride down the stretch. Over the last five games, the two have combined to average 286 rushing yards per game and 19 touchdowns.
Mason in particular will be key. In the two biggest games of the season against Alabama and Missouri, Mason ran for 468 yards and five touchdowns. He also set the SEC title game record with a 304-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Tigers.
Florida State hasn't seen a rushing attack, or a pair of dynamic runners, like this.
The hero responsible for the 109-yard return to beat Alabama will be one of the most important players on defense against this Florida State attack.
The Seminoles are averaging 53 points per game, which ranks second in the country, mainly because of Jameis Winston and an elite passing offense. Florida State averages 322 passing yards per game, but the offense is so dangerous because of how many elite receivers Winston has at his disposal.
Three Seminoles—Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw—all have more than 900 receiving yards on the year. That trio of receivers has also combined to catch 29 touchdowns.
That's why Davis, a cornerback who leads the team with 69 total tackles and 14 pass breakups, will be key. Auburn is one of the worst teams in the country at defending the pass, ranking 104th by allowing 260 yards per game.
Davis will need to lead an inspired performance for the Tigers.
Florida State hasn't been ranked No. 1 since 1999, and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston said fans have been waiting for the Seminoles to reemerge, according to Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.
"People were waiting to feel our presence. People were waiting for Florida State to do what we're doing right now."
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn feels his team deserves a shot at Florida State, according to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.
We're the SEC champ. I believe we won [the BCS national championship] the last seven years. We play the toughest schedule of any of the teams there, and we're playing our best football. A lot of teams aren't getting better each week. This team is.
After winning the ACC title, Florida State's Jimbo Fisher said this level of success is where he wants his Seminoles every year, according to Brandon Mellor of the team's official website.
Very happy for our team, our university. This championship means a lot to us. This is where we want to be every year and we have to get here to keep achieving and going to BCS games and the other games in which we want to get to, but the ultimate goal is to always win your conference and I think this conference is a great conference.
Auburn's Tre Mason feels like he's right up there with Winston as a Heisman candidate, according to Edward Aschoff of ESPN.
I want to win that, that's a goal of mine. I want to be in New York and be a finalist for the Heisman. I struck the pose a couple times [Saturday]. I feel like I should be in the talk with those guys.
Florida State 45, Auburn 38
For the first time since 2011, the title game won't be a rout. For the first time since 2007, a team from the SEC won't be hoisting the crystal trophy.
Jameis Winston will throw for 340 yards and four touchdowns to earn MVP honors in a seven-point Florida State victory. The Seminoles will pile up 525 yards on the Tigers in a high-flying shootout.
Auburn will run the ball successfully but not as well as they did against Missouri. The Tigers won't be able to crack 300 rushing yards, but that won't stop them from keeping pace with Florida State.
The Seminoles will score the game's first 14 points before Auburn responds with 10 unanswered to start the second quarter. Each team will add a touchdown before halftime as Florida State takes a 21-17 lead into the break.
In the third quarter, Florida State will take control, scoring 10 quick points after two long drives. The Tigers and the Seminoles will trade touchdowns deep into the fourth quarter, but time will run out on Auburn. A late interception from Nick Marshall will seal the victory, and the national championship, for Florida State.
All stats via NCAA.com.