Much to the joy of most college football fans, Monday night marks the official end of the Bowl Championship Series.
Ironically enough, in the BCS' final hurrah, the denounced system got it right with No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn in Pasadena for the national championship.
"We all complain about the BCS, but isn't it funny how often they get it right," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said via ESPN.com.
Both teams have taken remarkably different paths to the Rose Bowl.
Looking to end the SEC's reign of seven national titles in a row, the Seminoles have absolutely steamrolled opponents. In 12 wins, they are averaging 53.0 points per contest and giving up just 10.7. In their four games against ranked opponents, they have won by a combined score of 200-35, including a 51-14 drubbing of then No. 3 Clemson.
Boston College came the closest to FSU, losing by 14 at home back in September.
Auburn's ride hasn't been quite as succinct.
Beginning the season unranked and losing in September to LSU, the national championship never even seemed like an option for the Tigers. Then they reeled off nine straight wins, the final three being of the instant-classic material.
On Nov. 16 against Georgia, Ricardo Louis caught a deflected pass on 4th-and-18 with 25 seconds remaining and went 73 yards for the game-winning score. Two weeks later, Chris Davis returned a missed field goal from his team's own end zone as time expired to beat No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl. The following week, the Tigers beat Missouri, 59-42, in the SEC championship.
With the way the entire season has gone, the finale is unlikely to disappoint.
Date: Monday, Jan. 6, 2014
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Odds: Florida State (-10.5), via Covers
Over/Under: 68, via Covers
Key to the Game Will Be the Battle in the Trenches
Florida State is so balanced on offense, but when Fisher's squad is able to get the run game going, it is nearly impossible to stop.
That was evident during the season, as the Seminoles, per teamrankings.com, finished ninth in yards per rush (5.5) and 23rd in rushing yards per game (202.5). Heisman winner Jameis Winston's ability to scramble is part of that, but the 'Noles have three running backs in Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr. who are all very talented.
Of course, running behind All-ACC first-teamers, such as tackle Cameron Erving, guard Tre' Jackson and center Bryan Stork, tends to make things a little easier.
As such, Auburn, which gives up a healthy 4.8 yards per rush and 172.3 rushing yards per game (per teamrankings.com) will have its hands full.
As Stork pointed out, though, the Tigers' defense isn't nearly as swiss-cheese-like as the statistics may suggest, via Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel:
"I think they're a great [defensive] front," 'Noles center Bryan Stork said. "They're well-coached. They do what they're supposed to do. They're where they're supposed to be. ... their front is very talented, and there's many of them."
Of course, not only will the battle in the trenches be important in terms of the running game, it will be crucial for Auburn to get into the backfield.
They must make Winston uncomfortable so that the corners don't have to cover for extended periods of time. That job will certainly fall to defensive end Dee Ford, who Rivals' Justin Hokanson notes must have a big game:
Will Ellis Johnson bring constant pressure against Jameis Winston? That hasn't been Auburn's style. Dee Ford will be counted on to play big.— Justin Hokanson (@JHokanson) January 6, 2014
No worry for the senior from Odenville, who recorded 8.5 sacks in 11 games and is confident in his ability to track down Winston, per CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman:
Asked what makes him so confident he can get to Jameis Winston, #Auburn DE Dee Ford: "He's a quarterback. He drops back." Smiles, laughs— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) January 3, 2014
There are so many talented skill players in this game, but arguably the most key matchup (the strength of Florida State's offense vs. Auburn's sometimes inconsistent defense) will be won on the inside.
This won't be as lopsided as many think. Auburn has continued to get better as the season has worn on, and with a month of preparation time, Gus Malzahn will have some tricks waiting for the Seminoles' defense.
Who will be the last BCS national champion?
Combine that with Heisman finalist Tre Mason and Nick Marshall eating up yards and time on the ground, the Tigers will be certainly be able to keep up.
There's a great chance this one could come down to who has the ball last, but I'll take the Seminoles, who simply have too many offensive weapons.
Florida State 35, Auburn 31