The last BCS title game between Auburn and Florida State may not be one of top ten BCS bowl games in the era that, for the most part, worked in getting the top-two teams to play for the title. But there are story lines galore. Auburn will try to win the eighth consecutive BCS title for the dominant SEC conference and the fifth straight for the state of Alabama. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will try to win the Heisman Trophy and the BCS title in an undefeated season for the trifecta.
Auburn, which won no conference games last year and has played in two of the most incredible games in college football history this season, will try to prove that they are indeed a team of destiny that can defy 100-1 odds to win the title. And the game will be held in college football’s most storied venue–the jewel that is the Rose Bowl in the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena.
Here are five things to watch during the game.
1. Which defense can best contain the other team’s dynamic offense?:
Florida State has had trouble stopping the run against Boston College’s Andre Williams and Miami Duke’s Johnson, who kept the game close until he got hurt in Florida State’s win. And they face an Auburn team, with Tre Mason and Nick Marshall, that averages an astounding 335.7 yards per game rushing. Florida State’s defense, though, has given up the fewest points in the NCAA (10.7), but they are not as strong up the middle as some SEC teams and Auburn should not have a problem repeatedly gashing them.
On the other hand, Auburn can’t stop the pass and has one of the most atrocious defenses for a top-caliber team and Winston and his bevy of talented receivers should not have a problem exploiting Auburn’s secondary.
The game has all the signs of a shootout, as both offenses seem like they simply cannot be stopped and only can be be contained. Florida State’s defense, though, is better than Auburn’s defense but Auburn’s offensive is tougher to stop than Florida State’s pro-style, talented offense that blew out teams like Clemson and Duke.
2. Auburn’s defense line Malzahn’s newest innovation:
Ever since Gus Malzahn, as Arkansas’s offensive coordinator last decade, called a play in which the ball was snapped directly to Peyton Hillis in a game in which they were being crushed by USC, Malzahn has been renowned for his innovation. That formation became the “wildhog,” which was run with brutal efficiency with Hillis, Darren McFadden, and Felix Jones, and adopted by teams in college and the NFL as the “Wildcat” formation. Malzahn, with his innovations, has been able to allow less talented teams to close the gap in college football much like Nolan Richardson’s Arkansas basketball teams did with their “40 minutes of hell” pressure defensive and full-court press. And his variation of the Wing-T offense in what is called the “Hurry Up, No Huddle” will be all that Florida State can handle.
But if Auburn is going to beat Florida State, it will probably be because of its defensive line.
Malzahn’s innovations on defense may actually do more to help less talented teams close the talent than his offensive schemes, and many teams may adopt Auburn’s defensive rotations in the coming years. On defense, Auburn is undersized and does not have the bulk that teams like Alabama for Florida State do. But Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson have rotated up to nine lineman in and out throughout the game, keeping them fresh and their opponents on the run. With Dee Ford and Carl Lawson and six to seven other fresh lineman who will rotate in and out, Auburn can keep the pressure on Winston and constantly give him different looks. That can make the difference in the game and confuse Winston, who has arguably faced only two “tough” defenses in Clemson and Miami. The play of the defensive line has already helped Auburn against Texas A&M, Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi, and Mississippi State.
3. Florida State’s Nick O’Leary, Devonta Freeman:
Florida State running back Devonta Freeman is one of the most talented dual-threat backs in the nation. If he is able to gash Auburn’s offense, Florida State will cruise to victory. Nick O’Leary, Jack Nicklaus’s, grandson, has that “clutch” gene and seems to always be in the right place at the right time against a defense that has struggled to contain tight ends. He is also lucky to be alive after surviving the crash below. If the game is close, look for these two players to potentially make decisive plays for Florida State.
4. Jameis Winston’s short passes can COST Florida State the Title:
Like quarterback Brett Hundley at UCLA, Winston often struggles with mid-range passes like a college basketball does with the mid-range jumper. In games against Miami and Duke, Winston has wildly missed his receivers over the middle on mid-range throws. Mistakes like that against Auburn may be returned for a touchdown and will certainly offset the passing yards Auburn’s defense will likely give up in the game.
5. Phenomenal kickers:
For all the hype Auburn’s special teams rightfully got after the miraculous return against Alabama, Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo is the special teams player to watch in the title game. Aguayo, the Lou Groza award winner, is like a right-footed Sebastian Janikowski who can make 60-yard field goals with ease–and without juiced K-balls. Auburn’s kicker–Cody Parkay–is not shabby either, and he has made some clutch field goals this year and has been tested under pressure. Also keep an eye on Auburn punter Stephen Clark–who has a knack for pinning teams inside the 10-yard line with some precision punting.
Prediction: Florida State 48, Auburn 41… with a late cover.*
I would not be shocked, though, if Auburn cut the deficit to one with no time remaining on a 99-yard hail-mary pass that is caught by an Auburn running back at the Florida State 35-yard line, who then laterals back to Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who then runs it in for touchdown. And then won the game by going for two on a Fumblerooski play. Seriously, would anyone be surprised if the game ended this way?
*for entertainment purposes