In a BCS National Championship Game full of stars—Jameis Winston, Kelvin Benjamin and Tre Mason, just to name a few—it will be the under-the-radar players that decide the outcome of the Florida State-Auburn clash.
Lesser-known players have the ability to make huge impacts on games. Opposing teams don't always prepare well for their exploits, as coordinators generally dedicate their focus to slowing down the game's top players. This is when under-the-radar guys step up and take over.
The following players are guys you can expect star-like numbers from in the BCS title game—even if they don't get the recognition the top stars do.
Nick O'Leary, TE, Florida State
Nick O'Leary, the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, has every trait that NFL teams love to see from tight ends. Should he declare for the draft, he'll likely go off the board as the No. 4 or No. 5 tight end.
The junior can do it all. Wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey told Dan Greenspan of NFL.com that "[O'Leary] has probably some of the best hands on the team."
As a pass-catching option for Heisman-winner Jameis Winston, O'Leary is especially a threat in the red zone. He hauled in seven touchdowns on 33 receptions this season, and while all the attention is focused on Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, O'Leary could very well do damage against the Auburn defense.
TE Nick O'Leary: I do a lot of blocking and a catch a lot of balls. It's an awesome offense to play in. pic.twitter.com/8fcc4u2N1z— FSU Football (@FSU_Football) January 3, 2014
He isn't just a one-trick pony in the passing game, though. Greenspan notes that FSU center Bryan Stork views O'Leary as a member of the offensive line because of his proficiency at run-blocking. At 6'3", 248 pounds, O'Leary has the size to match up against guys on the edge. When doing so, he almost always finds success.
NFL teams will likely be watching O'Leary closely Jan. 6 when these two teams meet. Auburn should also pay him close attention. Otherwise, the Tigers could get burned.
Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
Auburn loves to run the ball—a lot. That makes its top receiving threat, sophomore Sammie Coates, a major X-factor in the BCS title game. In passing situations, he needs to come up clutch.
He has been especially useful this season in the vertical passing game, as Brandon Marcello of AL.com points out:
Coates is also the Tigers' top receiver, and his proven to be one of the best deep-play threats in the country. He's averaging 22.1 yards per catch, which ranks second in the country behind Baylor's Tevin Reese.
When defenses stuff the box to try to slow down quarterback Nick Marshall and Heisman-finalist Mason, Auburn has shown the ability (at times) to torch them over the top. Passing isn't Marshall's strong suit, though, and it will be his effectiveness at hooking up with Coates over the top of the secondary that keeps Auburn in the game.
FSU knows this. When the Seminoles inevitably stuff the box to slow down the run game, expect them to keep a corner or safety deep that can keep up with Coates. The wideout has speed to burn, but a defensive back capable of contesting the ball in the air should give him problems.
Look for Coates to have an impact on the game—one way or another.
Devonta Freeman, RB, Florida State
Running back Devonta Freeman has the chance to make a real impact on this game. He's a very special talent in terms of rushing the ball, but he also has a good head on his shoulders, and he does whatever his team needs to win.
Mike Szvetitz of Opelika-Auburn News recently chronicled how Freeman is willing to fall short of a 1,000-yard rushing season if it means helping his team win the BCS title game:
I think we could, but 1,000 yards for me is just an individual goal, and a championship for us is a team goal. I put that aside for the team goal. I just want to win. It's something that hasn't been done in a long time.
The last Seminole to reach the 1,000-yard mark on the ground was Warrick Dunn in 1996. He also accomplished the feat in 1994 and 1995.
.@FSU_Football Devonta Freeman: A 1000 yards is an individual goal. A championship is a team goal. The championship matters more.— Rose Bowl Game (@rosebowlgame) January 3, 2014
Freeman will be relied upon heavily when Winston isn't picking apart Auburn's secondary. The key to any good passing team is how effectively they can keep the chains moving with the running game. Freeman has shown the chops to push the pile and pick up extra yardage this season, and that will be a big key for FSU's attack.
Even if he doesn't top 1,000 yards for the season (he only needs 57 more), expect him to make his presence felt.