The BCS National Championship Game kicks off at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday, Jan. 6, where the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles will try to stave off the resilient No. 2 Auburn Tigers.
There will be no shortage of storylines entering this one, but the headliners are Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston and Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn.
FSU has an incredible team top to bottom, which ESPN Stats & Info indicates has led to a historic level of dominance this season:
Florida State has dominated this season - its average margin of victory (42.3) is highest since Army in 1944 (52.1): http://t.co/VPPYpzoLFi— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2014
The freshman Heisman Trophy-winning Winston is the leader of the bunch with his uncommon composure, incredible talent and advanced honing of the QB craft. Dan Wolken of USA Today goes so far as to say that, with a win, the Seminoles would be considered arguably the greatest team ever:
Meanwhile, Malzahn has molded a program that was 3-9 a season ago into a national finalist, mentoring a talented but raw signal-caller of his own in Nick Marshall en route to the SEC title.
Let's take a look at when and where to catch the action for what should be an epic showdown, along with a projected final score and analysis.
|Matchup||Time (EDT)||TV||Live Stream|
|No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 1 Florida State||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
Projected Score: Florida State 38, Auburn 31
What this really comes down to is whether or not the Tigers can succeed in spite of the stout Florida State rush defense, which has yielded only five touchdowns on the ground this season.
That has been the case for Auburn to date. No matter the opponent, the dynamic tandem of running back Tre Mason and Marshall seems to gash the opposition on a consistent basis.
Even the athletic, disciplined front sevens of Alabama and Missouri couldn't prevent Auburn from accumulating a whopping 841 yards over those two games to close out the regular season.
USA Today's Paul Myerberg reveals that FSU middle linebacker Terrance Smith has a good grasp of what his defense has to do to stymie the Tigers:
Everyone's going to have to do their responsibility and take responsibility for their gap because they have a pretty good running back in Tre Mason.
To stop them you're going to need really good eye discipline. They try to mess you up with a lot of their different motions and a lot of their window dressing, to get you out of position and to hit the big plays. If we can stay sound and everybody does their responsibility I believe we'll be able to handle them.
However, it hasn't mattered that Marshall is still very much a project pocket passer—he's done enough to keep defenses honest to the point where he, Mason and a mauling offensive line can manhandle defenses.
Part of the reason Auburn has been so successful is because the offensive staff has played to the strengths of its personnel rather than trying to force-feed a certain philosophy.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee elaborated on that point in a report by AL.com's Brandon Marcello:
You still work on deficiencies and all those things, but you really try to accentuate the things they do well. I think so many times in our game you may see people that try to make a square peg fit in a round hole and make guys do things they want them to do but maybe they're not best at, and we just try to take the opposite approach with that.
Replicating that success on this big stage against the Seminoles will be difficult, though—especially with Winston set to face the Tigers' 103rd-ranked pass defense when he steps onto the gridiron.
Regardless of scheme, the Seminoles have the athletes to stack up with any team in the country and are stronger in more areas than their impending opponent.
How will the BCS title game play out?
Mason is a tough runner who should help the Tigers keep time of possession close or even in their favor, but he is likelier to become exhausted than the three-headed monster in the Seminoles' backfield.
Even in a pinch, however, head coach Jimbo Fisher told Auburn's official Twitter account that he is confident Winston won't wilt in the face of adversity:
FSU's Jimbo Fisher on how QB Jameis Winston would handle a close BCS game: "I don't think it will make him blink one bit."— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) January 5, 2014
Between Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr., FSU has three backs capable of alleviating the load on Winston's shoulders. In addition to that, Winston is very athletic and can keep plays alive for his receivers to get open down the field on Auburn's suspect secondary.
Winston has the clear edge over Marshall under center, and the Seminoles will be just a bit too deep for the Tigers to handle in what will be a fantastic, thrilling conclusion to the college football season.
Team statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.