The final game of the BCS era is shaping up to be one of its best.
Florida State and Auburn have defined the 2013 college football season, so it's only fitting for them to be the ones who cap it off. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston will lead his Seminoles (13-0) against Home Depot Coach of the Year winner Gus Malzahn and his Tigers (12-1) at the Rose Bowl stadium on Jan. 6.
Auburn will be looking for its second title in four years, while the Seminoles are in the title tilt for the first time since 2001 and seek their first championship since 2000.
In a sport that's obsessed with continuity, it's odd that Winston and Malzahn—the respective faces of each team—weren't even active members of their rosters last season. Winston took a redshirt behind EJ Manuel, a future first-round NFL draft pick, while Malzahn was the head coach at Arkansas State.
Soon enough, though, one will capture a BCS national championship in his first true season at his position. With a little help from B/R's lead writers, here is everything you need to know before kickoff in Pasadena.
Before reading up on the game, why not spend some time watching? Here are the best sights and sounds from each team's respective season.
Enjoy the awesome hype tape above—and then start counting the hours until kickoff.
The biggest mismatch of the game, it would seem, is Florida State's deep stable of wide receivers against Auburn's sieve-like secondary. If the Tigers want to pull off the upset, its weakest unit will need to play like (one of) its best.
B/R's Barrett Sallee dug deep into the numbers and found some troubling flaws. Auburn ranked last in the SEC in pass plays of 20-, 30- and 40-plus yards allowed this season, finishing worse than No. 110 nationally in all three stats.
Florida State, meanwhile, ranks No. 5 nationally in pass plays of 20-plus yards, which would seem to give it a sizable advantage. With Jameis Winston throwing to targets like Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary, the big plays will be there for FSU. Accordingly, the Tigers' best defense should be opportunism:
Auburn bends but doesn't break, so when an opportunity presents itself, whether it's generated from pressure or not, the Tigers have to pounce—just as they've done all year.
The secondary will have to come to play for the Tigers to have any hope of hoisting the crystal football for the second time in four years.
To that end, Auburn's secondary doesn't need to stifle the Seminoles receivers for the full 60 minutes. Just a few timely turnovers and stops will do the trick.
But is even that too much to ask?
Earlier this week, I took a look at the top 2014 NFL draft prospects in the national title game—a list so deep it excluded guys like Florida State center Bryan Stork, who should be one of the highest players drafted at his position.
That's how loaded this championship game should be...on both sides of the ball. Here's a quick look at my top 10 draft-eligible players:
- OT Greg Robinson, Auburn
- OT Cameron Erving, FSU
- WR Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
- RB Tre Mason, Auburn
- DB Lamarcus Joyner, FSU
- DE Dee Ford, Auburn
- LB Christian Jones, FSU
- DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU
- CB Chris Davis, Auburn
- LB Telvin Smith, FSU
The full piece can be found here, along with a more thorough breakdown of all 10 listed prospects.
Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah has just nine catches for 146 yards this season, which might initially make him look like an afterthought in Gus Malzahn's offense.
Three of Uzomah's receptions have gone for touchdowns and all have come from no more than 25 yards out, making him one of the Tigers' premier red-zone options. One of those three saved their season against Mississippi State in the final seconds, and another came at a pivotal point of the Alabama game.
B/R's Barrett Sallee examines why Uzomah could be the ultimate X-factor in Pasadena, and what he'll have to do to make an impact against the likes of linebacker Christian Jones in coverage.
"He may only be targeted two or three times," Sallee writes. "But those instances...could make the difference between a win and loss for the Tigers."
Might the 2014 BCS championship be decided by which tight end outplays the other? There's a better chance than you think.
B/R's Michael Felder thinks that Florida State's Nick O'Leary, just like Auburn's C.J. Uzomah, is the biggest X-factor in the upcoming title game. The grandson of Jack Nicklaus has 557 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this season, but he still somehow gets lost in the shuffle amongst the deep Seminoles receiving corps.
Felder looks into what makes O'Leary stand out on tape, and how he might match up with a preoccupied Auburn pass defense. "If Auburn feeds Florida State mismatches at the tight end," he writes, "[Jimbo] Fisher and his offense will gobble them up."
B/R's Adam Kramer thinks, with the admitted caveat that he thought the same thing about Notre Dame in 2013, that if the long layoff favors anybody, it would have to be Auburn over Florida State.
He believes this for the same reason, too, because if anyone stands to benefit from a near-month of unimpeded practice, it's the game's rawer quarterback—in this case, Auburn's Nick Marshall:
For Auburn and its most dynamic playmaker, quarterback Nick Marshall, this month could serve as a time for further growth.
...His development throughout the season was one of the biggest storylines in all of college football, and he can and will get better. Giving him extra snaps and film-room sessions with Gus Malzahn is an enormous luxury at a time when his game is taking off.
Kramer, in the spirit of fairness, also thinks the layoff will help Florida State prepare for Auburn's tricky rushing offense. But compared to the progression of Marshall—and given how a full month of practice can help a raw-but-limitless quarterback—that edge is simply not as favorable as Auburn's.
Especially after seeing how Oklahoma freshman Trevor Knight, who struggled for most of the season, just shredded Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, it's hard to argue with Kramer's logic.
B/R's Florida State columnist, Perry Kostidakis, came up with a blueprint to victory for the Seminoles. In it, he lists two major points that have continued to surface this entire past month: FSU must exploit the Tigers secondary on offense and contain the Tigers rushing attack on defense.
On the first front, he points to 6'5" wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who compares physically with Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans. Evans shredded the Tigers when they traveled to College Station in October, finishing with 287 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, Kostidakis preaches discipline on the edge:
The key to stopping Auburn's running game is staying at home and being disciplined, something that the Tigers' opponents haven't been able to do consistently. Defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Christian Jones will be essential in stopping the run, since they'll have to be able to combat the read option, something that Auburn is quite skilled in doing.
It sounds simple on paper, but it's not. Every coach knows these basic run-defense tenets, yet none have found success against Auburn's ground attack all season. There's only so much Jimbo Fisher and Co. can do to prepare this team for what it will see.
At some point, the players just have to stay focused and make plays.
Not to be outdone, B/R's Jake Martin counters with a blueprint of Auburn's own, pointing to three ways the Tigers can pull off the upset.
First, Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee must continue to keep the playbook unpredictable, throwing things at the Seminoles that they have never seen or don't expect:
It's nearly impossible to pick up a trend with this offense, as Malzahn calls from play-to-play, rather than series-to-series. What that illustrates is that Malzahn will always keep opposing teams guessing by altering play calls, never developing a distinct rhythm for defensive coordinators to catch.
...Like the Iron Bowl, Malzahn has to be one step ahead of Florida State's defense in order to generate points in such a fashion only he can fabricate.
Next, wide receiver Sammie Coates—one of the few top-end playmakers Auburn has on the outside—needs to be a bigger part of the game plan:
Coates has nearly triple the amount of yards the Tigers second leading receiver Ricardo Louis has. As often as the Tigers run it, Coates has produced a staggering 841 yards and seven touchdowns, simply because of the deep threat he is.
He's averaging 22.1 yards per catch, and if Malzahn wants to stay in front of Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, he should come up with more creative ways to get Coates the ball.
Finally, Auburn must utilize Robenson Therezie creatively on defense, taking advantage of his unique pass-rushing skills to pester Jameis Winston in the backfield.
If given time in the pocket, Winston will pick this defense apart.
Check out the video above, where all three B/R lead writers—Barrett Sallee, Michael Felder and Adam Kramer—preview the title game and predict what will go down in Pasadena.
Myself? I'll go with Florida State by seven or 10 points, though I wouldn't be shocked by something even higher. Then again, I also had Alabama at the top of my postseason confidence pool, so feel free to take that with a grain of salt.
Who do you think will take home the crystal football? Sound off in the comments.