With only one loss between the two programs, the Auburn Tigers and Florida State Seminoles are accustomed to winning big games. However, nothing can prepare them for the BCS National Championship Game, which takes place on Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Which team will win?
FSU enters the contest as the prohibitive favorite to win, as oddsmakers expect the Tigers to lose by 10 points, per Covers.com. It's not surprising, considering Jimbo Fisher's club finished the regular season with the top-ranked scoring offense and defense.
However, Auburn's fateful path to this point in the proceedings (miracle wins over Georgia and Alabama) suggest this upcoming matchup could be a lot closer than some expect—at the least. Nobody should be surprised if this "David" slays that "Goliath."
Here's what both teams must do in order to secure victory.
FSU: Stop Auburn's Running Game
What? You thought there was something else the Seminoles needed to do?
This one's simple: If FSU can shut down Auburn's option running game, then the Tigers have little-to-no chance of winning this upcoming game.
But it's a lot easier said than done.
Tre Mason and Nick Marshall combined to rush for 2,644 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2013.
Remember, Alabama was one of the top teams in the nation at shutting down the run (three yards per carry allowed) before Auburn ran over, around and through the Crimson Tide for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
Florida State enters the game with the country's No. 13-ranked run defense, allowing 116.5 yards per game. Head coach Fisher talked about his staff's familiarity with Gus Malzahn's offense, as relayed by David Leon Moore of USA Today:
We have a lot of guys on our staff that have played against Gus for a long time. They know a lot of his high school roots, a lot of people he was around and things he did. I keep a running record of all the guys we've played against and books on all the guys we've played against for the last 10, 15 years.
That familiarity could give FSU an edge, but then again, Alabama and Missouri both thought they had a chance:
FSU says they can stop Auburn's run game... So did Mizzou... AND Bama. We see how that worked out— #ThirdSplashBrother (@Matt_T_West21) January 1, 2014
If the Seminoles can't shut down the Tigers on the ground, then Auburn will have a shot to win.
Auburn: Shut Down FSU's Three Elite Receivers
As good as Jameis Winston has been, he wouldn't have won the Heisman Trophy without his exceptionally gifted receiving corps. FSU had three receivers catch at least 50 passes for at least 929 yards and six touchdowns.
No other team in the nation can boast such a stat, and there's no doubt Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin comprised the nation's top receiving trio.
Greene was the team's top possession receiver, hauling in 67 passes for 981 yards and nine touchdowns. Benjamin was the top scorer and big-play threat, catching 50 passes for 929 yards and 14 touchdowns, which was the fifth-most of any receiver in the FBS in 2013.
Cornerback Jonathon Mincy, via Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com, talked about the upcoming challenge: "It’s going to be a big challenge. That’s all I’ve been hearing about, is their wide receivers. It’s a great opportunity that we can go out there to show that we can be a proven defense."
Highlighting Auburn's secondary difficulties this past year, Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee writes about what could potentially be a winning formula for the Tigers:
The Tigers have given up an SEC-worst 27 passing plays of 30 or more yards and 14 of 40 or more yards. Conversely, Florida State led the ACC and is fourth in the nation in pass plays of 20 or more yards with 71.
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 only problem with that formula is that FSU has been phenomenal all year long about taking care of the football, earning a plus-17 mark for the year.
That means Auburn's secondary will likely need to win individual battles against the talented trio of Seminoles receivers, which hasn't worked well for any team to this point.
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