The final act of the BCS is set, as the No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-1, 7-1 SEC) and the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles (13-0, 8-0 ACC) will do battle at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday, Jan. 6, at 8:30 p.m. ET to determine college football's top team.
Like any good battle for a title, this matchup between powerhouses will be decided by which side can answer the key questions about the matchup.
Both teams tout impressive defenses, but arguably neither have faced opposition quite like each other—yet.
As this epic battle unfolds, here are a few storylines to watch. How they play out will ultimately decide the game.
How Will Auburn Match Up With Florida State WRs?
Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston gets a ton of credit after his Heisman-winning season, but his weapons will also be thrust into the spotlight against the Tigers.
Winston is fortunate enough to play with three special talents at wide receiver. All three tallied more than 900 receiving yards in 2013:
|Rashad Greene||67||981||14.6||72 (TD)||9|
|Kenny Shaw||52||929||17.9||55 (TD)||6|
While Rashad Greene is the best of the bunch statistically, the star of the show is sophomore Kelvin Benjamin, who stands at 6'5" and 234 pounds. Benjamin looks, plays and even acts like a clone of Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, as ESPN's Joe Schad illustrates:
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
An ability to put pressure on Winston or shut down the run is one thing, but it is another beast entirely to ask the Auburn defense to properly match up with all three star receivers.
Few cornerbacks on the Auburn depth chart are taller than 6'0", so the Tigers defense must get creative in coverages and assignments to keep the receivers in check. If not, this one will get ugly.
Can Florida State Slow Auburn's Roll?
Auburn can counter the explosive Florida State offense with a potent attack of its own, although the Tigers prefer to mostly keep things on the ground.
The Tigers rank No. 1 in the nation with an average of 335.7 rushing yards per game. But do not think for a moment the Seminoles are not equipped to compete with that—the Seminoles rank No. 1 with just 10.7 points surrendered per game.
Yes, this game is about to be that good.
Which team wins?
The Tigers are led by junior running back Tre Mason. He gashed any and all competition in 2013 with 283 carries for 1,621 yards and 22 scores. He is flanked by fellow junior and dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall, who threw for 1,759 yards and 12 touchdowns to five interceptions and was team's second-leading rusher with 156 carries for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Above all, expect Mason to be at his best against the Seminoles. As ESPN3 illustrates, he does his most damage against the best competition:
If the versatile attack Mason and Marshall bring to the table can find success once more, Auburn may be able to keep Winston off the field.
Is There Any Stopping Jameis Winston?
Speaking of the Heisman winner, what does the Auburn defense have to do to slow Winston—and can it?
Doubtful, but there is a trend to zero in on—don't blitz him. Before shouting in protest, check out this nugget from ESPN's Sharon Katz:
When opponents send five or more pass rushers, Winston leads all players from automatic-qualifier (AQ) conferences in completion percentage (70.1 percent), touchdowns (20) and yards per attempt (12.4). Against standard pressure, Winston is completing 66 percent of his passes and has thrown seven of his 10 interceptions.
Translation—drop more bodies into coverage and generate a rush with down linemen.
Easier said than done. Winston threw for 3,820 yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, leads the nation's No. 1 offense that averages 53 points per game and allows his unit to gain a minimum of at least 20 yards every 8.6 snaps, per Katz's numbers.
"Auburn will arrive at [Monday's game] with a defense that, statistically & logically, has no business being here." http://t.co/DV5jDECS1B— CBSSports.com (@CBSSports) January 4, 2014
If Auburn can somehow pull it together defensively and apply pressure without additional help, the Tigers might just be able to pull off another upset for the ages.