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BCS National Championship Primer: Florida State vs. Auburn

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Heisman winner Jameis Winston goes for Florida State’s third national championship against Auburn’s team of destiny.

BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: No. 1 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 2 Auburn (12-1)

[Monday, Jan. 6 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN]

How They Got Here

Florida State made the championship game the old-fashioned way: by steamrolling everyone in their path. The Seminoles won 11 of their 12 games by 28+ points en route to the ACC championship and their first undefeated season since 1999. Auburn, meanwhile, might be the most unlikely title game participant in BCS history. The Tigers didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason AP poll and were picked to finish fifth in the SEC West. Instead, they rolled to a 9-1 mark to start the season—and that’s when the magic happened. Trailing Georgia 38-37 with just thirty seconds left, Auburn got a tipped-ball Hail Mary for a 73-yard touchdown to steal the victory. They followed that up the next week with the most exciting finish in college football history: a 109-yard return of a missed Alabama field goal with no time left to win the Iron Bowl. Finally, they rolled over Missouri in the SEC title game.

When Florida State Has the Ball

Freshman phenom Jameis Winston ran away with the Heisman trophy after setting NCAA freshman records with 3,820 passing yards and 38 touchdowns. The Seminoles rank first nationally in scoring (53 points per game) and are sixth in total offense (529.4 yards). They beat the four ranked teams they played this year by a combined score of 200-35. But while Winston understandably gets the hype, Florida State also features an unheralded running game that boasts three backs that all rushed for over 500 yards this season. The Seminoles should be able to put up some big numbers against an Auburn defense that ranks 89th nationally in total defense and 102nd against the pass.

When Auburn Has the Ball

The Tigers’ offense starts with a pounding run game that leads the nation in rushing at 335.7 yards per game. While Auburn’s offense is focused on the run, quarterback Nick Marshall has shown an ability make plays with his arm, throwing eight touchdowns in his last seven games. He’s only been picked off once since late September. The Tigers will face a stout FSU defensive unit that leads the nation in passing defense and scoring defense, is third in pass defense and is 13th in rushing defense. On paper, the Seminole’s defense doesn’t appear to have many holes. But Auburn has faced stiff opposition before and averaged 46 points in wins over its last three ranked opponents. Florida State’s defense is outstanding, to be sure. But, with the possible exception of Clemson, the Seminoles have not faced an offense as tough as the Tigers.

What to Know

Auburn’s late-season run gives the SEC an opportunity to capture its eighth-consecutive national title and the Tigers’ second championship in four years. The Seminoles, meanwhile, are seeking their first title since 1999 and first without Bobby Bowden on the sideline. In three previous BCS championship matchups between an undefeated team and one with one loss, the one-loss team has one each time. Florida State’s strength of schedule is the worst of any BCS title game team in the last ten years. The next three lowest strength of schedule teams (2006 Ohio State, 2007 Ohio State and 2009 Texas) all lost by 14+ points to SEC opponents.

What to Watch For

With Florida State leading the nation in both scoring offense and defense, it should be no surprise that the Seminoles are heavy favorites going into this one. Given Auburn’s defensive struggles, Florida State should be able to put plenty of points on the board. So it will be important for Auburn to establish the run game turn the game into a shootout and show they can hang with the Seminoles. If they can’t run the ball and fall behind early, it could make for a long night. But if the Tigers can take a lead or at least keep it close, Marshall’s ability to make plays with both his arm and legs (12 passing touchdowns, 11 rushing) could lead to another magical finish for Auburn.

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