The final title game of the BCS era is tonight! While that’s one reason to celebrate (bring on the College Football Playoff), the actual game we are about to watch is another. It’s the undefeated Florida State Seminoles against the Cinderella team, the Auburn Tigers. Will the clock finally strike midnight on the SEC conference’s dynasty, or will the miracles continue for the Tigers? Let’s break it down!
Florida State: Jimbo Fisher. 44-10 record as head coach (2010-present), 3-0 in bowl games.
Auburn: Gus Malzahn. 12-1 record as Auburn head coach (first season).
I’d rather have… Fisher, but not by a landslide. Malzahn’s story is incredible, from coaching a high school team to coaching in the national championship game in his first year in the big-time. He’s going to have his team extremely prepared, but Jimbo Fisher has the experience of coaching in a big bowl game after winning the Orange Bowl last season. With two brilliant coaches like the two coaching tonight in Pasadena, experience is the deciding factor.
The Key Players
- Jameis Winston, Florida State QB. Heisman Trophy winner as a redshirt freshman after a remarkable year where he threw for 3,820 yards, 38 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions (ACC and freshman record for TDs). 67.9% completion percentage showed he is extremely accurate. The Seminoles need him to have a strong performance in order to win. We all saw how Notre Dame did last year with a redshirt freshman under center; they couldn’t finish off many drives and that led to a blowout loss.
- Devonta Freeman, Florida State RB. The Noles’ leading rusher will also need to have a big outing on Monday night. While Winston got most of the attention and praise for the 13-0 run, Freeman ran for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns on just 162 carries. He won’t be the centerpiece of the offense, but he’s used to that supporting role by now. When he’s given the ball, he will make the most of his touches and will probably find the end zone before the night’s over.
- Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State WR. When Jameis Winston needs to throw one to the end zone, his most likely target will be Benjamin, a 6-5, 234-pound sophomore with off-the-charts talent. Benjamin has had a breakout season, with 14 touchdowns and 957 yards receiving on 50 catches. The combination of Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw has been lethal this year. Benjamin gets the spotlight in this paragraph because his size makes him the biggest threat for six.
- Nick Marshall, Auburn QB. Last time Auburn was in the title game, Cam Newton was the star QB leading the Tigers to victory. This time around, Nick Marshall is under center, and what a player he has been for Gus Malzahn’s team. Like Newton, Marshall went from being a player on a big-time SEC program with all the potential in the world, to being dismissed from school after a legal issue, to community college, to being Auburn’s starting quarterback in a national championship game. Unlike Newton, Marshall started the bumpy road as a cornerback, then changed positions to QB. His numbers have been great (23 total TD, 2,819 all-purpose yards), but his performance in crunch time, especially his Hail Mary throw to beat the same Georgia Bulldogs who dismissed him two years before, makes him special. Whether he needs his arm or his legs to make the big, game-changing play, he has all the ability in the world to make that play. The Noles have likely been preparing hard for the dual-threat QB.
- Tre Mason, Auburn RB. Some great rushing performances in the last few games of the season earned Mason a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist. His stats speak for itself: 1,621 rushing yards on 283 carries, 22 touchdowns. Simply put, Mason is the focal point of the Auburn offense. In the SEC Championship against Missouri, he exploded for 304 yards and four touchdowns and it all became clear: Malzahn is going to give him the ball until the opposing defense shows they can stop him. He had 46 carries in that game, and I’d expect no less than 25 against FSU. Mason has the potential to be the most important player in this game because if he’s not producing, Auburn’s in big trouble.
- Dee Ford, Auburn DE. Why only mention the offensive skill players in this column, especially since Auburn is going to need a strong defensive performance to shut down Jameis Winston? The anchor of that defensive line is Ford, who leads the team with 8.5 sacks in 11 games, which is good for third in the SEC. What makes Ford so great? Above anything else, it’s his leadership. When he was unable to play against Washington State and Arkansas State in the first two games of the year, they got dominated the air without Ford’s pass-rushing presence. While the defense has been shaky all year, the difference without Ford in the lineup was noticeable. Look for the senior to put his heart and soul into his last game as a collegiate player. He’s been through the good, bad and ugly as an Auburn Tiger, so he’s going to expect his teammates to match his intensity on Monday night.
Yards per game (offense): Florida State 529.4 (5th), Auburn 505.3 (11th)
Points per game: Florida State 53.0 (1st), Auburn 40.2 (8th)
Opponent yards per game (lowest is first in rankings): Florida State 270.8 (3rd), Auburn 444.3 (99th)
Opponent points per game (lowest is first in rankings): Florida State 11.1 (1st), Auburn 25.8 (48th)
The clock has hit midnight on Cinderella. Auburn had an incredible run and the Chris Davis return will be replayed for generations to come, but Florida State is just too powerful on both sides of the ball. Auburn’s defense isn’t exactly fearsome, and as long as Jameis Winston comes out composed there’s no way Florida State won’t carve them up. It’ll be a shootout, but Gus Malzahn’s team won’t have the horses to keep up with the Noles in the second half. The BCS era will end with the end of the SEC’s reign atop the college football world. Florida State 41, Auburn 28