If you're looking for any defense during Monday night's game between Florida State and Auburn, good luck finding it. The BCS National Championship promises to be a shootout.
That's just one of the many predictions you can make heading into the finale for the 2013-14 college football season. Both the Tigers and Seminoles have Heisman finalists on offense and boast no shortage of stars capable of turning the game on its head with one play.
Beyond that not-so-bold forecast, it's difficult to make any major guesses for how the night will shake out. Auburn's entire season has been one big fairy tale, and with the results of the previous four BCS games, who knows whether Florida State—the favorite—will come good.
As Rowdy Roddy Piper famously said, "Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions."
Against my better judgment, here are three predictions heading into the game.
Florida State's Running Backs Will Steal the Show
Everybody's focusing on Jameis Winston, Nick Marshall and Tre Mason. Flying under the radar is Florida State's three-headed monster at running back—Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. The trio combined for 2,190 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground. None of them averaged fewer than 5.8 yards per carry.
Gus Malzahn and Ellis Johnson have had a month to devise a plan to stop Winston. While it likely won't be entirely successful, it could thwart the Heisman winner just enough to make the Seminoles look elsewhere for yards.
That's where Freeman, Williams and Wilder come in.
Of the three, Freeman is most likely to take some of the spotlight away from Winston. The junior running back has been very good all season, and like many of Florida State's offensive stars, his numbers (943 yards, 13 TDs) were hindered by the fact that many of the team's games were over at halftime.
Although Freeman's on the precipice of eclipsing 1,000 yards, which would make him the first Seminoles back to do so since Warrick Dunn in 1996, he is more focused on winning, per Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:
"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,” Freeman said. “I just want to win. It's something that hasn't been done in a long time."
Maybe Freeman can have his cake and eat it too.
Nick Marshall and Tre Mason Will Have Big Games on the Ground
No matter what Jimbo Fisher and Jeremy Pruitt have drawn up between Dec. 7 and now, there's almost no chance they'll prevent Marshall and Mason from getting a combined 250-300 yards rushing.
Auburn have become scarily good at running the football. The way the Tigers decimated Missouri in the SEC Championship served as a stern warning to Florida State. The SEC runner-up had a strong run defense coming into the game, and still surrendered 545 yards.
Malzahn's offense isn't intricate in that you see tons of different plays every game. But he knows what his team does well and plays to those strengths.
There should be little doubt as to the success of the Tigers' running game on Monday. It's the passing game they have to worry about. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wondered how much having a month-long layoff would help Marshall's passing skills:
Head coach Jimbo Fisher's crew has a solid secondary led by cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and safety Terrence Brooks, and those guys are going to be counted on in run support at times. If Marshall can develop as a passer during the layoff just enough to keep that secondary honest, it could spark even more life into that punishing Auburn offense.
Florida State needs this time to prepare for Auburn, but Marshall needs this time to improve.
An improved Marshall could be the difference between the crystal football taking up real estate in Auburn or Tallahassee.
Selling out against the run could open up some space in the secondary, but Florida State is first in both interceptions (25) and passing efficiency defense. The Seminoles should have enough defensive strength to defend the pass and limit the running game, just enough to secure the victory.
Auburn's Magic Will Run Out
Auburn has lived a charmed life this season, with the "Prayer at Jordan Hare" and the "Kick Six." Of course, it's helped that the Tigers have such a good running game and tough pass rush, but there's no doubt that a lot of luck has played into their success.
The problem with riding your luck so much is that sooner or later, it's going to run out.
On Monday night, pure talent and personnel advantages will be the difference.
The Seminoles are the favorites for a reason. They have one of the best defenses in the country and their offenses offers impressive balance. It's a testament to the quality of this team that it hasn't truly been challenged this season.
The ACC may not be the SEC, but it isn't that easy. Those lopsided wins over Clemson and Duke are looking better following the Tigers' and Blue Devils' respective performances in bowl season.
FSU should be able to exploit Auburn's defensive deficiencies and hold out enough defensively to see itself through on Monday.
Final Prediction: Florida State 37, Auburn 28
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