When Florida State and Auburn meet in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 6, it is no secret that much of the attention will be focused on the likes of Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin, Nick Marshall, Tre Mason and a host of other stars, but that is simply the tip of the iceberg.
As important as all of those players will be, there are several others who will make a huge impact as well. It often seems as though under-the-radar players affect big games as much as anyone, and that should once again be the case when these two great teams battle for the Coaches' Trophy.
Here are the three biggest X-factors to watch when the Seminoles and Tigers meet in the season-ending BCS National Championship Game.
Quarterback Jameis Winston was more than deserving of the Heisman Trophy, but he couldn't have won it without a strong supporting cast on offense. Winston has a triad of 900-plus-yard receivers at his disposal in Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, and they understandably garner much of the credit. One player who manages to consistently fly under the radar, though, is junior tight end Nick O'Leary.
The grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus isn't always heavily involved in the Florida State offense, but he makes the most of his opportunities. O'Leary is averaging nearly 17 yards per catch, and he has scored seven times on 33 receptions. O'Leary hasn't had more than three catches in a game since going off to the tune of five receptions for 161 yards against Clemson on Oct. 19, but it wouldn't be wise for the Auburn defense to write him off.
O'Leary tends to shine brightest on the big stage, and there is no stage bigger than the BCS National Championship Game. Florida State boasts so many weapons in the passing game that it is essentially impossible to account for all of them.
Auburn will have to pick its poison, and it is entirely possible that the Tigers will decide to force O'Leary to beat them. Auburn may very well get its wish as O'Leary has all the tools necessary to put the Seminoles' offense on his back.
In order for a team to lead the nation in rushing with more than 335 yards per game, it must utilize a number of excellent ball carriers. That has been the case for Gus Malzahn's Auburn squad all year long.
Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason deservedly receives a lot of praise, as does quarterback Nick Marshall, but junior running back Corey Grant is often a forgotten man. Grant has carried the ball just 65 times this season; however, it can easily be argued that he is the Tigers' most explosive weapon.
Grant—an Alabama transfer—is averaging an incredible 10 yards per carry this season to go along with six touchdowns. He has been so good, in fact, that Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has questioned whether or not Grant is used enough in the Tigers' offense, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com.
"It's huge," Lashlee said. "He's a big-play guy. He's averaging over 10 yards, or right at it, a carry, and you know, kind of makes you wonder, maybe we should give it to him more."
Whatever Auburn has been doing on offense has worked, so it hasn't had to force things with Grant. He has never carried the ball more than nine times in a single game, but he offers a great change of pace to Mason. Even if he is used sparingly once again in the national title game, he has the potential to go the distance from anywhere on the field, so Florida State will have to be well aware of when he is out there.
Both Florida State and Auburn have so much talent that it's easy to forget about special teams. When two teams are evenly matched, though, special teams often make all the difference in the world. If that is ultimately the case, then the Seminoles seemingly have an advantage.
Florida State is one of the most well-rounded college football teams in recent memory as even their kicking game is worth mentioning. With that in mind, freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo could play a huge role in this contest.
Aguayo has been nearly perfect this season, which is rare for any kicker, let alone a freshman. Not only has he converted all 90 of his extra point attempts, but Aguayo has also made 19 of the 20 field goals he has tried. That is an unbelievable statistic that has gotten buried among all of Florida State's other accomplishments. Aguayo was recognized with a year-end award, however, as he won the Lou Groza Award, according to Noles247.com.
Although Aguayo's precision hasn't necessarily made a huge difference this season due to Florida State's overall dominance, that may very well change in the BCS National Championship Game. The Seminoles haven't had to play in many tight games, however, the title game figures to be a tight affair. If it comes down to field goals, then Aguayo figures to be a dangerous, secret weapon for the 'Noles.
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