Sneak Peek: 2014 BCS Championship Game

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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

Tennessee hanging around with Alabama — and trailing by three TDs

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It feels like Tennessee is hanging decently well with Alabama, and yet the score is 21-0 Tide at the break in Tuscaloosa. Such is life in the Third Saturday in October rivalry.

Bo Scarborough lodged Alabama’s first two scores on identical plays, diving over a pile of humanity for 1-yard scores. The first came to end Alabama’s first drive of the day and the second came at the 4:48 mark of the second quarter. Damien Harris added the third on an 11-yard carry at the 1:18 mark.

Jalen Hurts has completed 9-of-17 passes for 144 yards, but the numbers look better than his performance has. The sophomore has been late and/or off-target with a handful of throws thus far.

It hasn’t mattered, though, as Alabama has racked up 108 yards on the ground and benefitted from a pair of drive-extending penalties by Tennessee.

Tennessee’s offense has avoided a critical mistake but hasn’t seriously threatened the Alabama defense. John Kelly has carried four times for 21 yards, and Jarrett Guarantano completed 7-of-11 passes for 38 yards while rushing eight times for 13 yards. As a team, Tennessee amassed 75 yards of offense and five first downs in the half.

Alabama will receive to open the second half.

Jimbo Fisher allows he ‘shouldn’t have said something’ to heckling fan

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Florida State’s off to a rough start on the field, which means have gotten a little bit tougher — and louder — off of it.

FSU lost to Louisville 31-28 Saturday afternoon in Tallahassee to tumble to 2-4, its worst start to a season since Bobby Bowden‘s final year in 2009.  After the game, as Jimbo Fisher was headed into the postgame locker room, he was greeted by a fan who shouted down from the stands “get new coaches.”

The head coach’s response? “Walk your ass down here and say it.”

After the game, Fisher was, of course, asked about the exchange. While he allowed that he “shouldn’t have said something” to the heckling fan, he passionately defended his struggling football program, from the football players on the roster to his coaching staff.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

It’s not frustration, just, ‘Hey, listen, be supportive,’” Fisher said of the interaction after the game. “There’s no reason to be nasty. I shouldn’t have said something.

“But at the same time, [I’m] defending players and people you’re with. I’m in charge of them, and I love them like a father. If they say something about your family, you take up for it. …

“Are you going to be a real fan or not?” Fisher said of general fan reaction following the poor start to this season. “Just keep fighting with us. We ain’t quitting on you. Please don’t quit on us. We’re going to keep fighting, scratching, coaching and playing, and you see the heart and desire of those kids.

“I understand you’re going to get on us [coaches]. That’s part of the business. That’s part of life. I understand that. … There ain’t no quit in us either. We’re right there. We just have to find a way to get it.

With this latest loss, FSU now needs to win four of its last five contests to qualify for one. One win is practically guaranteed as they face FCS Delaware State Nov. 18. Beyond that, their work is cut out for them as they have road trips to surging Boston College, Clemson and Florida, as well as a home game against a much-improved Syracuse squad that upset Clemson earlier this month.

Army officially accepts Armed Forces Bowl invitation

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The calendar may say October, but we’re already talking bowl bids.

Specifically, it was announced Saturday afternoon that Army has officially accepted a bid to play in the 2017 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.  The service academy’s sixth win of the season came courtesy of a 31-28 overtime win over Temple.

“We are absolutely delighted that Army West Point has accepted an invitation to play in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl,” bowl executive director Brant Ringler said in a statement. “Coach Jeff Monken has been outstanding since his arrival at West Point, and again reaching the post-season is a tremendous accomplishment. We are thrilled to be able to host the Army West Point football team and the cadets in Fort Worth.”

“To return to the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl is very special for our football program and the U.S. Military Academy,” Army athletic director Boo Corrigan said in his. “The bowl did an exceptional job in 2010 in our win over SMU and we are looking forward to another great experience for our players, coaches and staff in Fort Worth in December.

The bid acceptance is contingent, though, on Army not being selected for the Group of Five’s slot in a New Year’s Six Bowl.  The Black Knights are currently 6-2 on the season; as of this posting, there are two G5 unbeatens (USF, UCF) and four with one loss (Memphis, Navy, Marshall, Toledo).

As we noted this week, Army will be making its first back-to-back bowl appearances since the 1984-84 seasons.

Rutgers wins back-to-back B1G games for first time since joining the conference in 2014

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I don’t know which one specifically, but this has to be one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

Entering Week 8, Rutgers was 5-23 in conference play — 2-18 the last two-plus years — since joining the Big Ten for the 2014 season.  Exiting Week 8, that mark has been bumped up to 6-23 as RU held off Purdue 14-12 in Piscataway.  The Boilermakers had a chance to tie the score with 25 seconds remaining after a David Blough touchdown pass, but the two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful.

Making this win even more impressive is the fact that the Knights were outgained 474-217 in total yards by the Boilermakers — and 279 of those yards for the visitors came on the ground.  The bend-but-don’t-break defense, though, forced six punts, two turnovers and three turnovers on downs in holding a Purdue offense that came in averaging 26.9 points per game to a pair of field goals and one touchdown.

Combine this victory with the Week 7 road win over Illinois, and this marks the first time RU has won back-to-back Big Ten games becoming a B1G member three years and three-plus seasons ago.  Not only that, but it’s also the first time they’ve won back-to-back conference games in any league since 2012, when they were a member of the defunct Big East.

This mini-streak will seemingly face a stiff test to extend as they travel to Ann Arbor next weekend to face No. 19 Michigan in the Big House.