The wild bowl season is in the books, which means it is time for the nation's top two teams to clash in the 2014 BCS Championship. The No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-1, 7-1 SEC) and the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 ACC) will collide at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Such a matchup only seems fitting for the final iteration of the BCS. Auburn pulled off a miracle victory over then-No. 1 Alabama and proceeded to trounce then-No. 5 Missouri in the SEC Championship to make it to this point.
On the flip side is Florida State, which dominated not only the ACC, but college football in general behind the arm of Jameis Winston, the second freshman Heisman winner in as many years.
Like all championship gridiron bouts, a few names will rise above the rest.
Projected Top Performers
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
It is difficult not to love what Winston brings to the table despite his youth. The freshman threw for 3,820 yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the year.
The leader of the nation's No. 1 offense, that averages 53 points per game, Winston is in for a colossal performance on the biggest stage of them all against an Auburn defense that allows an average of 24 points per game.
That Auburn defense is led by coordinator Ellis Johnson, who is also impressed with Winston, per ESPN's Travis Haney:
Auburn DC Ellis Johnson: Jameis Winston could be inserted right now into NFL game for a few plays and he would be fine.— Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN) January 3, 2014
Perhaps most impressive of all, Winston takes care of the football. He completed 67.9 percent of his passes on the season and recorded a completion percentage north of 70 in five games.
Against a strong Auburn offense that will surely put points on the board, Winston's ability to match and not turn the ball over will make him the star of the game.
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
Much of the attention when one looks at the Auburn offense should go to running back Tre Mason, who will surely have a big impact on the game after a season in which he carried the ball 283 times for 1,621 yards and 22 scores.
But fans would be wise to not overlook junior quarterback Nick Marshall. The dual-threat weapon threw for 1,759 yards and 12 touchdowns to five interceptions in 2013, but also served as the team's second-leading rusher with 156 carries for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Marshall is tasked with taking down the nation's No. 1 defense that allows an average of 10.7 points per game. He is clearly focused on doing so, as provides this gem that occurred leading up to the big game: of AL.com
"I saw that his teammates were taking pictures of everything and posting them on Facebook and Instagram," said Shalena Cliett, Marshall's mother. "I said, 'Nick, why are you not taking pictures?' He says, 'Mom, I came out here for one reason and one reason only, and that's to bring home the crystal.'"
Despite the attention and distractions of a national stage, fans can expect Marshall to have a major game thanks to his versatile traits.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Coming in at 6'5" and 234 pounds, and possessing jaw-dropping speed for his size, it is all too obvious that Seminoles sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin will have a major impact on the outcome of the title game.
If Benjamin sounds a bit like the Detroit Lions Calvin Johnson, that is because he is. Benjamin even admits he watches Megatron in order to be a better player, per ESPN's Joe Schad:
FSU WR Kelvin Benjamin said he watches Calvin Johnson and learned to be less selfish by running hard on plays he's not the primary target— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 4, 2014
After a season in which he caught 50 passes for 957 yards and 14 touchdowns, Benjamin may be taking his talents to the next level in the wake of the destruction he is about to cause in the title game.
Auburn has plenty of talented defensive backs, but like most teams in the country, the Tigers simply will not have an answer for Benjamin.
Again, this is a matchup that is ultimately fitting in the BCS' final act, but it will not be as close as it appears on paper.
Which team wins?
Florida State is simply a powerhouse that has laughed any and all competition out of the building this season. The Seminoles defeated four ranked opponents by a combined score of 200-35 in 2013.
Winston is an elite player in his own right. He is also backed by the nation's best defense, two running backs with more than 700 rushing yards and three receivers with more than 900 receiving yards.
Kudos to Auburn for a season that seems destined to end in the glory of a title win, but the Tigers will simply not be able to score enough to pull out a victory.
Prediction: Seminoles 49, Tigers 34