WHO: 13-0 Florida State (ACC) vs. 12-1 Auburn (SEC)
WHAT: BCS Championship Game (16th year)
WHERE: The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
WHEN: Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. ET
WHY: It’s the end of the an era as the final BCS championship game takes place on Monday night in Pasadena between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn.
The SEC will be going for its eighth-straight championship (and fifth-consecutive from the state of Alabama), while the Seminoles are hoping for their first title since 2000.
These two teams took wildly different paths to get here.
FSU put up one of the most dominant seasons in the history of college football, defeating its 13 opponents by an average score of 53 to 11. The balanced offense is led by quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns on his way to becoming the second freshman (and third Seminole) to win the Heisman Trophy. A trio of talented skill players form the nation’s best receiving corps, with Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw all within striking distance of 1,000 yards. Tailback Devonta Freeman rushed for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns while converted safety Karlos Williams had 705 yards, 11 scores and averaged over 8 yards per carry. Tight end Nick O’Leary (did yo know he’s the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus?) is also a big weapon, with 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns.
This is an offense without many weaknesses, but there might be a couple for Auburn to exploit. The Seminoles offensive line allowed Winston to be sacked 29 times, for instance. And this is a team and a quarterback that has not had to play in a tight game under pressure. If the Tigers can keep this one close, will FSU stay calm or will it begin to press? We’ll see.
If worse comes to worse and the Seminoles struggle on offense, there is always the FSU defense to rely on. This dominant unit led the nation in points allowed, interceptions, passing defense and passing efficiency defense. It’s a playmaking unit led by All-American defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. But again, this is not a defense that has been stressed by too many dynamic offenses. They’ll be going up against one of the great offensive masterminds in college football on Monday night.
That would be Gus Malzahn, who took over a 3-9 Auburn team and executed one of the great turnaround jobs in the history of the sport. The Tigers were like a mix between the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team and the 1969 New York Mets, winning games in unlikely and dramatic fashion on their way to the SEC title.
Malzahn’s offense developed slowly but, as the year went on, it was transformed into a dynamic and deadly ground attack, averaging a nation-best 335 yards per game. Quarterback Nick Marshall, a junior college transfer and former defensive back at Georgia, threw for 1,759 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 1,023 and 11 scores. Tailback Tre Mason rushed for 1,622 yards and scored 22 touchdowns on his way to being named a Heisman finalist. The Tigers averaged 47 points per game over their last eight games as no defense — not even Alabama — could find a way to stop them.
Auburn will probably need to score as many points as possible because its defense, while opportunistic and active, is not exactly as stingy as FSU’s. The Tigers gave up 24 points per game and were particularly vulnerable in the secondary, finishing 102nd nationally in passing yards allowed. They will be hard-pressed to stop Winston and Co.
There could be no better venue for the final game of the BCS era and, arguably, no better teams to send the system off into the sunset. FSU, which appeared in the first three BCS title games, will complete its long-sought-for Return to Glory if it can get a win over Auburn. If the Tigers claim a victory, it’ll be their second title in four years and cement the SEC as the sport’s premier league — plus confirm that the state of Alabama is the indeed the center of the college football universe.
Who are we to argue with destiny?
PREDICTION: Auburn 35, Florida State 34