The final BCS National Championship Game represents a fascinating matchup between the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles, and the final result will likely come down to just the slimmest of margins.
Each team boasts an imposing offense, but neither one lacks for talent on defense either.
It’ll be a real test for the Seminoles to go up against an SEC defense, while the Tigers will be struggling to prove that their last-second wins against Alabama and Georgia weren’t flukes.
While Florida State is favored, either team could easily come away with a win in this one. It all just depends on a few key elements.
Auburn’s Offensive Line
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason have been dominant when running the ball, and Auburn’s dominant offensive line has been a huge part of its success.
Marshall and Mason have each amassed more than 1,000 yards this season behind this deep offensive line. How the unit matches up with Florida State’s imposing defensive line will be absolutely critical to the outcome of this game.
The unit is led by center Reese Dismukes, a vocal, physical player that anchors the line.
But the rest of the line isn’t too shabby either, as ESPN’s Greg Ostendorf and David M. Hale explain.
Dismukes, a three-year starter, is the anchor of the group. He was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the top center in college football, and although it’s not an official stat, he leads the team in knockdowns. The matchup between he and Florida State nose tackle Timmy Jernigan won’t just be a battle in the trenches -- it will be a war.
From a pure talent standpoint, sophomore left tackle Greg Robinson has emerged as the best player on this Auburn offensive line. He started last year but was still relatively unknown heading into this season. He’s quickly become a star in the SEC, and he continues to improve his draft stock with every game.
Junior Chad Slade doesn’t get the notoriety, but he’s been as solid as it gets for the Tigers. He moved from right tackle to right guard and hasn’t missed a beat. The other two spots are taken by a pair of redshirt freshman, Alex Kozan and Avery Young. Kozan was named to the freshmen All-SEC team for his play at left guard.
If Auburn wants to knock off No. 1 Florida State, this is the matchup it has to win. The Tigers have rushed for an average of 402 yards over the last four games, and it’s in no small part due to the play of the offensive line.
As good as this group is, however, the Seminoles might be able to get the better of them.
Jernigan is a monster on the inside, while defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman are also dominant.
But it’s Jernigan in particular who should worry the Tigers. He leads the Seminoles with 4.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss, and he’ll be battling with Dismukes all night.
“(Jernigan) doesn’t have any weaknesses – he plays the run and the pass very well ... it should be fun,” Dismukes told The Montgomery Advertiser.
If the offensive line can pave the way for Mason and Marshall, the Tigers will be able to set the pace of the game. However, if they can’t, they might find it hard to keep up with Florida State.
Florida State’s Passing Game
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston gets a lot of hype, and deservedly so, but he’s not the only part of the Seminoles’ passing game that deserves to be feared.
The Seminoles have one of the best receiving groups in the nation, with receivers Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin each recording at least 50 catches and 900 receiving yards this season.
Winston’s ability to move in the pocket and make insane throws are well documented, but he’s greatly helped out by his receivers making spectacular catches on those throws, like this one.
All of that makes for a passing game that’s incredibly difficult to defend, as SB Nation’s Ian Boyd explains.
Florida State's greatest strength is its passing game, which likewise finished second in S&P's rankings.
That tall FSU offensive line is a difficult group to beat with a pass rush. The receiving group is arguably the best in the nation. Rashad Greene, 6'5 Kelvin Benjamin, and Kenny Shaw are all over 900 receiving yards and are joined by dual-threat tight end (Nick) O'Leary.
Winston's comfort with the Noles' passing game and tremendous accuracy to all areas of the field, when paired with phenomenal wideouts who are dangerous as acrobatic receivers and runners after the catch, makes their passing game nearly impossible to scheme against. Defenses have been proving this all year long. Winston's only game so far with a passer rating below 152.8 came in a 56-point win at Wake Forest, whose defense is keyed around a 250-pound nose tackle, so there's not a whole lot we can glean about what teams have tried against him so far.
It certainly doesn’t help Auburn’s case that the secondary is allowing 259.3 passing yards per game, the 103rd-worst rate in the nation.
The Tigers’ best hope is to pressure Winston, something they’ve been considerably more successful at this season. They’re 46th in the country with 28 sacks this year.
However, Winston has had little trouble warding off pressure over the course of the season. He might be the best at taking off and running, but his elusiveness in the pocket combined with his size make him truly tough to bring down, as he’s only been sacked 29 times all year.
If the Tigers let Winston sit back and throw, he’ll be able to pick apart the Tigers and force them to throw to keep up.
However, if Auburn’s dominant offensive line can dictate the pace with the running game and the defense picks up some stops, the Tigers can pull off the upset.
No matter what, there’s little doubt that the title game will be a thrilling one to watch.