When Florida State and Auburn battle for a BCS National Championship, the game will likely come down to a few key matchups on each side of the ball.
Obviously, every player that steps on the field will have to perform to his best ability in order to help the team win. However, some of the athletes have tougher tasks than others, and these individual battles will have a huge role in the game.
While Heisman winner Jameis Winston and finalist Tre Mason will get a lot of the publicity, fans should watch for these one-on-one clashes that will decide the championship.
Florida State OT Cameron Irving vs. Auburn DE Dee Ford
Auburn has had an up-and-down year on defense, but Dee Ford has been a rock for the unit all year. The senior defensive end led the team with 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and an impressive 17 quarterback hits.
However, he will have a tough task against Cameron Irving, who was recently named second-team All-American by the Associated Press (via CBS Sports). The former defensive tackle has been outstanding on offense over the past two years, and he has plenty of skill on both run and pass plays.
His massive size at 6'6" will make it tough for Ford to get by on passes, which will allow Winston plenty of time to throw the ball for the Seminoles.
If Auburn wants to slow down the passing attack, it will need its top defensive player to use his speed to get into the backfield early and often. He must create pressure and at least force the freshman quarterback to make quick decisions.
Otherwise, Florida State will be able to move the ball down the field all day long.
Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin vs. Auburn CB Chris Davis
Although the Seminoles have three receivers with over 900 yards this season, Kelvin Benjamin is the one Auburn should be most concerned about. The sophomore is currently tied for fifth in the nation with 14 receiving touchdowns and ranks 12th with an average of 19.1 yards per reception.
While he has a wide skill set at the position, Benjamin's best attribute might be his size. Standing at 6'5", he will be incredibly tough for anyone on the Tigers to defend.
If anyone is up to the task, however, it will be Chris Davis. The senior cornerback is best known for his game-winning touchdown against Alabama, but the truth is he has been a big part of the defense all season.
Davis leads the team with 69 tackles as well as 14 pass breakups. He is a dynamic athlete who is all over the field when he plays, and he is Auburn's best chance of slowing down the talented receiver.
Since the Alabama game, he’s still the same person, but what I’ve seen is that all year, he’s continued to improve. His leadership on our team has continued to improve.
He’s one of our top players, top playmakers and top leaders.
Davis will need to be a big-time playmaker in order to keep Benjamin in check throughout the game.
Auburn C Reese Dismukes vs. Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan
Just as Dee Ford helps lead the defense for Auburn, Timmy Jernigan is a huge part of Florida State's success on that side of the ball.
The junior tackle does everything you want someone in the middle of a defensive line to do. He penetrates into the backfield, clogs in the middle of the line and takes on extra blockers to free up teammates.
While the Tigers have one of the best rushing offenses in the country, Jernigan is someone who can cause problems with this attack.
Of course, that all depends on the play of Reese Dismukes. Although he is the second-best center in the game behind Florida State's Bryan Stork, Dismukes was a third-team All-American and clearly was a big part of Auburn's success on the ground.
If the Tigers have a chance of putting up points against the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, they will need Dismukes to clear space in the middle of the field by getting the better of Jernigan.
Auburn QB Nick Marshall vs. Florida State LB Telvin Smith
In most cases, a quarterback is usually more concerned with players in the secondary than linebackers. However, Telvin Smith is one player with the ability to stop Nick Marshall.
The Florida State senior led the team in tackles and showed the ability to go all over the field to make a play. He ranked second to Jernigan in tackles for loss and had two sacks while also performing well in coverage with three interceptions.
His great speed in the open field will be used to keep Marshall in check while either running the ball or making short passes.
Of course, the dual-threat quarterback has been excellent all season and will not be contained too easily by anyone. Lars Anderson of Sports Illustrated had this to say about the talented player:
Marshall is the number one reason the Tigers are probably heading to the BCS title game in Pasadena. His coaches and teammates all say the 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior college transfer is the most essential part of a turnaround that has taken Auburn from a 3-9 record last season to an SEC championship in 2013.
Smith will try his best to prevent Marshall from making big plays, but actually pulling it off will be something else. If he can even slow the quarterback down, it will go a long way toward securing a victory in this game.
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