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

Jim McElwain reportedly signs deal to join Michigan coaching staff

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The Jim McElwain watch in Ann Arbor is essentially done. ESPN reports the former head coach of the Florida Gators has signed a deal to join Jim Harbaugh as a new member of the Michigan coaching staff. Michigan has not formally announced the new addition yet, but McElwain told ESPN he is getting to work right away as a wide receivers coach.

I’m excited to get back into it and am looking forward to going there and learning and helping Michigan get better,” McElwain said to ESPN‘s Chris Low, who reported the latest update in the ongoing McElwain-To-Michigan story. It has been quite a year for McElwain, who has now gone from wanting to “beat the heck out of Michigan” to joining Harbaugh as an offensive assistant (Harbaugh was 2-0 against McElwain in head-to-head meetings between Michigan and Florida).

McElwain was fired by Florida last October in the midst of a disappointing season after discrepancies in McElwain’s claims about receiving death threats could not be backed up by the coach. Florida bought out McElwain’s contract at a reported $7.5 million.

Michigan had been looking to fill the role of receivers coach following the abrupt departure of Dan Enos to Alabama. Enos joined the Michigan coaching staff for a cup of coffee, getting hired in January after the Arkansas coaching staff was given an overhaul with the firing of Bret Bielema only to leave for a job with Nick Saban. McElwain, of course, is one of many coaches to jump into head coaching off the Saban coaching tree in recent years, first with Colorado State and most recently with Florida.

Previous reports have floated the idea McElwain will call plays for the Wolverines, but that remains unconfirmed.

Drag racing accident leads to arrest for Mississippi State commit

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Mississippi State commit Nathaniel Watson has gotten himself into some legal trouble before his arrival at Mississippi State. Watson, currently a high school senior, was charged with assault first degree and a handful of traffic violations following a traffic accident earlier this month. Another student from Watson’s high school was arrested for reckless endangerment and other traffic violations as well. The two are accused of drag racing.

“The accident occurred after Tyrone Davis, also a student at [Maplesville High School], lined up in front of the school with his vehicle along with Nathaniel Watson’s vehicle for a race, witnesses stated that they lined up side by side and floored it, and both vehicles were squalling their tires and fishtailing up the highway heading into town,” according to an Maplesville Police Department press release (via The Clanton Advertiser). “As the racing vehicles topped a hill, an oncoming car caused Nathaniel Watson Jr. to swerve and lose control striking a power pole, cutting it in half and knocking power out to portions of Maplesville.”

A passenger in Watson’s vehicle suffered a crushed femur, fractured pelvis, a broken right arm and internal injuries. Neither vehicle involved in the accident was insured. Watson currently awaits a date in court in a county court. There has been no update or comment from Mississippi State’s football program or head coach Joe Moorehead about Watson or his status with the football program at this time.

Watson signed with Mississippi State on February 7. The wide receiver and two-sport athlete signed with Mississippi State over Auburn.

NCAA rule prevents Penn State football players from participating in THON activity

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This weekend is the annual THON dance marathon at Penn State, which has traditionally done wonders in racking up donations to help fight pediatric cancer. This year, however, the NCAA rulebook is getting in the way of one of the events members of Penn State’s football team typically participate in.

A message from Penn State informed media members there would be no media availability for football players at the THON event at the Lasch Building due to an NCAA rule regarding time restrictions in the offseason.

“We were informed this afternoon that due to the NCAA Time Management regulations, our current student-athletes are not permitted to participate in the THON event at the Lasch Building nor conduct media interviews [today] as it is a mandatory day off for the team,” a statement from Penn State Associate Director of Athletic Communications Kris Petersen said.

Members of Penn State’s football team have typically spent part of the day interacting with kids benefitting from THON’s mission, but that has tended to overlap with offseason days already scheduled through the athletics department for the football program. Because this was a scheduled day off for the football program, players are not permitted to take part in any organized activity while representing the football team. Although, one wonders just how far the NCAA would have been willing to challenge Penn State on this infraction in the event there was a conflict.

Players on the team can still participate and appear at the main event in the Bryce Jordan Center, and a couple already have along with head coach James Franklin.

Georgia football coaches all getting well-deserved raises

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File this one under stories that should have been expected from a mile away. The football staff at Georgia, following up on an SEC title and appearance in the College Football Playoff national championship game, are getting bumps in pay. As a whole, the assistant coaching staff under head coach Kirby Smart will be paid roughly $2 million more than the staff received a year ago, according to a report from Seth Emerson of Dawg Nation.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker will see the biggest pay raise with of $900,000 to bump his total pay up to $1.5 million. That would make him one of the top assistant coaches in assistant coaching salaries. Based off last year’s USA Today salary database, Tucker would be the fifth highest-paid assistant coach, and that may even be higher now given some of the offseason changes in the assistant coaching pool. Last year, four assistant coaches received a total pay of at least $1.5 million, and three of them were in the SEC (LSU’s Dave Arranda and Matt Canada, and Texas A&M’s John Chavis; Clemson’s Brent Venables was the outlier).

Keeping in line with another growing trend when it comes to power conference programs and how much money is budgeted for the football staff, Georgia will give strength and conditioning coordinator Scott Sinclair a $150,000 raise from his previous contract of $300,000.

What has not been finalized, publicly at least, is what the future holds for the contract of Smart. After a wildly successful season, Smart is expected to receive a raise as well as Georgia continues to build something special under his leadership after just two seasons. Smart was paid a base salary of $3.75 million last year, according to USA Today’s salary database, which made him the 9th highest-paid coach in the SEC in 2017. That is fair, considering Smart was a first-time head coach and other coaches in the conference had more head coaching experience, but Smart has quickly proven himself among his peers in the conference and is likely to move up the SEC coaching salary ranking quite quickly. Nick Saban (Alabama) and now Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M) may still be on another playing field in terms of salary, but Smart should manage to move up closer to the high-end of the SEC salary spectrum.