The two top college football teams in the nation close out what's been a wild bowl season when No. 2 Auburn (12-1) and No. 1 FSU (13-0) battle for the 2014 BCS National Championship on Monday, Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Offensive fireworks should be commonplace when these two powerhouses clash.
Florida State, led by Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, finished the regular season with the nation's top-ranked scoring offense, while Auburn, led by speedy signal-caller Nick Marshall, finished with the No. 9-ranked scoring offense.
Both teams have been unstoppable for most of the season, winning their games by huge margins throughout the year. Auburn won by an average of 16.2 points per game, while FSU won by a staggering amount of 42.3 points per contest.
Here's a final prediction for the championship game, along with projections for the top performers.
As much as Auburn's season appears to be fated for glory—given the team's miraculous wins against Georgia and Alabama in consecutive weeks—this game is FSU's to lose.
On paper, the Seminoles appear to have a huge edge, featuring the nation's top scoring defense. Much like Alabama's championship defense in 2012, FSU's defense has no obvious weaknesses.
Auburn's offense has been a veritable juggernaut during the final stretch against Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Missouri, however, and should provide a unique challenge to the Seminoles in this upcoming game.
Alabama's defense had allowed just three yards per carry before Auburn shredded it for 296 yards in the 2013 Iron Bowl.
For this reason, FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is looking to that game's tape to find answers for his defense, as relayed by Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel: "Schematically, obviously us and Alabama are very similar. So how [Auburn coach Gus Malzahn] attacked Alabama, what he had success with, what he didn’t have success with."
The Seminoles will do a better job than Alabama of keeping Marshall from ripping off huge gains, thanks to the team's athletic defensive front.
On the other side, Auburn must do something no team's been able to do this season: The Tigers must somehow find a way to shut down FSU's top-ranked scoring offense.
Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee pointed out Auburn's biggest challenge: "If Auburn can't get pressure with four and is forced to blitz and open up passing lanes, quarterback Jameis Winston and these receivers are going to pick this defense apart."
Missouri's big receivers gave Auburn's secondary fits in the SEC Championship Game, and FSU's trio of Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin will do the same in this upcoming contest.
Final Score: FSU wins, 49-35.
Projected Top Performers
Passing: Jameis Winston, FSU
Auburn's Marshall passed for over 300 yards just once in 2013, and his highest touchdown total the past year was two, which he achieved four times.
Conversely, Winston topped 300 yards on seven occasions, and he threw three or more touchdowns eight times.
The Heisman winner has three receivers at his disposal who caught at least 50 passes for at least 929 yards and six touchdowns. There's little doubt Winston will finish the game as the top passer unless he gets injured.
Should Marshall outgun his opponent, then it will be one of the biggest shockers of the entire 2013-14 college football season.
Running: Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
Thanks to FSU's athleticism up front on defense, nobody should expect Nick Marshall to break out with 200-plus yards on the ground like he did against Tennessee. He'll be lucky to crack 100 yards, as you can be sure the Seminoles will be working hard to keep him in the pocket.
But Tre Mason could have another tremendous game between the tackles.
Consider these jaw-dropping stats: During Auburn's final five games, Mason carried the ball 30.8 times on average per game, gaining 868 total rushing yards and scoring 13 touchdowns.
He's likely feeling spry heading into this game, too. After his incredible run to close out the season, Mason commented on the toll it took, via Auburn Gold Mine:
With a month to rest up, Mason will look to keep Auburn in the game with a huge game on the ground.
Receiving: Kelvin Benjamin, FSU
It's likely another receiver will catch more passes than Benjamin, but the freakishly athletic sophomore will finish the game having made the biggest impact on the scoreboard.
At 6'5" and 234 pounds, Benjamin is a tremendous red-zone threat. He's also pretty impressive to meet in person, as pointed out by Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports:
His 14 total receiving touchdowns tied for fifth in the nation, and he put on a remarkable three-game run to close out the season, catching 17 passes for 392 yards (23 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns.
He's become Winston's favorite target in big-game situations down the home stretch, and Benjamin should have a field day against Auburn's secondary.
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