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2014 BCS National Championship Preview
By Matt Horkman

Jameis Winston

In its final installment, it seems fitting that Florida State is one of the participants in the BCS championship game. The Seminoles appeared in the first three BCS championships, losing to Tennessee in 1998, beating Virginia Tech (quarterbacked by Michael Vick) in 1999, and losing against Oklahoma in 2000.

The BCS has come full circle with Florida State. It started with FSU against the SEC and it’ll end with FSU against the SEC. However, instead of Bobby Bowden, Peerless Price, and Peter Warrick, this installment features Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston, and the most dynamic running game in college football.

Greatness Awaits

The public and media love high drama. On Monday morning, you aren’t talking to co-workers about a 45-7 blowout victory by Florida State. You’re talking about Auburn’s last-minute wins over Georgia and Alabama. On the field, however, Florida State wasn’t involved in many dramatic games. In fact, most great teams aren't. That’s what makes them great. In many ways, Florida State has had a boring season.

In fairness, it‘s not as if people didn‘t watch them. They did play in three primetime games, but the outcome of each contest was never in doubt. The Seminoles started and finished strong in each for their games. The lone exception was a 48-34 victory at Boston College, though they still led by as much as 21 points in the fourth quarter. It may not be as exciting as a last-minute touchdown return off a missed field goal, but in the end, history celebrates dominance as much as it does drama.

From a statistical standpoint, the 2013 Florida State Seminoles are one of the most dominating teams in college football history. Their lowest scoring output of the year was 37 against rival Florida. Their defense, meanwhile, allowed just one team (Boston College) to score 20-plus points on them. The Seminoles are No. 1 in both points allowed and scored. This is why they’re about a 10-point favorite over Auburn.

To put this into context, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, who many consider the greatest college football team of the BCS era, scored about 43 points per game and allowed about 10 points per game. That’s a point differential of plus 33. Despite the NCAA’s attempt to erase them from history, the 2004 USC Trojans did indeed play football and play it well. The Trojans -- also regarded as one of the best during the BCS era -- scored about 38 points per game and allowed 13 points per game. Their point differential stands at plus 25.

With a point differential of about 39 points, the 2013 Florida State Seminoles trump both of them. The Seminoles average 53 points per game and allow around 11 per game. The numbers for Miami and USC do include their national championship games, which speaks to the greatness of those two teams. The Hurricanes beat Nebraska 37-14 and USC beat Oklahoma 55-19. Both teams finished the deal and did so without any drama. Florida State must follow suit, if history is to recognize them as an all-time great college football team.

Run, Auburn, Run!

Just how good is Auburn’s running game? Good enough to take a 3-9 team from a year ago and turn them into SEC champions at 12-1.

The Tigers led the nation in rushing, were one of five schools this season to have two 1,000-yard rushers, and ran the ball on 71 percent of their plays. Their most notable performance came against Missouri in the SEC championship, where they ran for 545 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Leading the way is running back Tre Mason, who ran for an SEC championship game record of 304 yards against Missouri. That performance -- along with his 164 rushing yards against Alabama -- earned him an invite to this year’s Heisman ceremony, which Winston won.

Tre Mason

It doesn’t end with Mason, however. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall utilizes the zone-read as well as any quarterback in the nation. His understanding of head coach Gus Malzahn’s offense grew with each passing game. Through the first month of the season, Marshall accounted for about 239 yards per game, but he averaged just 37 yards on the ground. Auburn averaged a respectable (but not special) 28.5 points per game. Their record was 3-1. In his final eight games, Marshall averaged about 228 yards per game, but his rushing output jumped to about 109 yards per game. In those eight games, Auburn averaged about 43 points per game. The increase threat from Marshall’s legs transformed Auburn’s offense into one of the best in the country.

Florida State’s defense is more than respectable. In fact, the Seminoles’ defense doesn’t get enough credit for just how good they are. Nevertheless, they didn’t fare well the onetime they faced an elite running game. Boston College running back Andre Williams ran for 149 yards against them. As stated above, the Golden Eagles are the only team to score more than 20 points against Florida State this season. Moreover, Williams is just one player. Mason and Marshall combined to rush for 2,644 yards, the most by a quarterback and running back tandem in college football. Throw in backup running back Corey Grant (650 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns) and there's no end to Auburn’s ability to attack a defense. 

ACC vs. SEC

The major blemish in Florida State’s outlook is the perceived weakness of the ACC. The conference did produce an NCAA-record 11 bowl teams, but it has posted a measly 4-6 record. Clemson, the other BCS team from the conference, did beat Ohio State 40-35 in the Orange Bowl. However, in 10 bowl games, opponents have outscored the ACC 324-255. In addition, the ACC is already 0-2 against the SEC, as Texas A&M beat Duke 52-48 and Ole Miss beat Georgia Tech 25-17.

The SEC's also been on the receiving end of criticism. Oklahoma’s 45-31 victory over Alabama has many talking heads throwing the overrated label at the conference. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops got in a few jobs as well.

Still, the conference’s body of work speaks for itself. The SEC has gone 7-2 in their nine bowl games, giving them the best win-percentage of the five major conferences. Auburn's also played six ranked opponents, while Florida State has played only four. The Seminoles did outscore their ranked opponents 200-35, but those teams went 1-3 in bowl season, while Auburn’s opponents went 4-2.

And the Winner is…

Florida State has put together one of the most impressive seasons in recent memory, yet the SEC remains the gold standard of college football. Something has to give.

Florida State is just a different animal. In many ways, they’re more similar to the previous SEC teams that won this game than Auburn is. Sure, the Tigers score many points and possess an explosive running game, but they don’t have the dominating defense that their conference brethren of the past did. Florida State does. The Seminoles have a defense littered with NFL talent. Expect at least five Florida State defenders to hear their names called in the 2014 NFL Draft with more coming through the pipeline.

While Florida State's offense does a nice job of blending the run and pass, it still comes down to Winston. The 2013 Heisman trophy winner has a chance to go down in college football lore as one of the best ever. He accounted for 4,013 yards and 42 touchdowns this season. And he did most of that with his arm. It’s easy to compare him to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was sensational in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Duke, but Winston is a far superior passer than Manziel is. Johnny Football threw for 454 yards against Auburn, so it makes you wonder what Winston has in store for the Tigers.

Because of their dominance, Florida State usually calls off the hounds by the fourth quarter. That won’t happen against Auburn. As talented as the Seminoles are, the Tigers will give them their best game. For Florida State fans, I suspect it’ll feel similar to the Seminoles victory over Boston College. For Auburn fans, I suspect it’ll feel similar to the Tigers’ victory over Texas A&M. However, unlike the Aggies, the Seminoles have enough defensive playmakers -- particularly in the secondary -- to stop Auburn when it counts. Unfortunately, for Auburn and SEC fans, the Tigers don’t have enough defensive firepower to stop Florida State went it counts.

Florida State 48 Auburn 38

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