The 2014 BCS National Championship will certainly not be lacking in star power.
In fact, both Florida State and Auburn are sending a Heisman finalist to New York on Dec. 14 in Jameis Winston and Tre Mason, respectively. Winston is the overwhelming favorite to win the award, while Mason cracked the finalist field with a late charge against Alabama and Missouri.
However, in marquee games it is often the unheralded players who make the difference in the outcome. Let’s dig into a few who could swing the game one direction or another come Jan. 6.
Auburn boasts the top rushing attack in the entire nation with better than 335 yards a game on the ground. Superstar running back Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall receive the lion’s share of the credit for those numbers, and rightfully so, but they aren’t the only crucial ball-carriers who will look for holes against Florida State’s front seven.
Corey Grant has yet to see double-digit carries in a single game this year, but he still managed to tally 650 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He dashed Washington State for 146 yards on only nine carries and picked up a critical 65 yards in the SEC Championship Game on only five carries.
Grant is averaging 10 yards a pop and is an effective change-of-pace back when Mason needs a blow. If Florida State’s defense thinks it can rest when Mason and his 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns are on the sidelines, it needs to think again.
If we are going to highlight one backup running back who eats up yards in notable chunks when he is on the field, it’s only fair to point out his counterpart on the Florida State sideline.
While Devonta Freeman tallied nearly 1,000 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns, Karlos Williams was the more effective rusher if we measure success by yards per carry. Williams averaged an impressive 8.2 yards a pop and added 11 touchdowns of his own on far fewer opportunities.
There are so many weapons on the field for the Seminoles, it’s hard to spread the ball around to everyone, but Williams will get his chances in the national title game. Look for him to take advantage against a vulnerable Auburn defensive front.
Nick O’Leary may not be as famous as his grandfather Jack Nicklaus, but people will know O’Leary’s name for his play on the field if he continues to perform at a high level in the BCS title game.
Tight ends are often unheralded, especially at the college level, and O’Leary found himself fourth on the Florida State receiving yards list. While he may not be the deep threat that Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are, O’Leary is a dangerous weapon in the red zone and could catch a critical touchdown against Auburn.
He may not draw the headlines that the receivers and Winston do, but O’Leary drew high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher when Fisher spoke to David M. Hale of ESPN:
“He’s like a silent assassin.”
O’Leary finished with seven touchdowns and nearly 17 yards per catch this season and will look to add to both totals on Jan. 6. Don’t be surprised if he does just that.
Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.