No. 2 Auburn will play No. 1 Florida State in the final BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl on Monday night. Here are 10 reasons the underdog Tigers will win:
FSU quarterback Jameis Winston became the second straight freshman to win a Heisman Trophy. The previous Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks didn't fare well in their bowl games. In fact, the 16 previous Heisman-winning quarterbacks who played in a bowl game went only 7-9 in the postseason. Worse, the Heisman-winning quarterbacks who played for a national title in their next games went only 4-7.
Auburn's first-year quarterback, a former Georgia defensive back, is getting better in Gus Malzahn's spread offense every week. He doesn't throw the ball very often -- he had only seven pass attempts against Tennessee and eight against Arkansas -- but makes the throws that matter most. Marshall engineered four comebacks in the fourth quarter against Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama. During Auburn's nine-game win streak, he accounted for 19 touchdowns. His 82.2 total QBR is 12th-highest among FBS quarterbacks.
Like Florida State, Auburn has been very good in the red zone on both sides of the ball. The Tigers scored on 51 of 57 trips inside opponents' 20-yard line (89.5 percent) this season, scoring 42 touchdowns and nine field goals. Auburn's defense limited opponents to 23 touchdowns and 11 field goals in 48 trips (70.8 percent) inside the 20, which was second best in the SEC and No. 7 nationally among FBS teams.
The Tigers excel in nearly every facet of special teams. Senior punter Steven Clark averages 42.5 yards per punt, including eight of more than 50 yards and 21 inside opponents' 20-yard line. Only five of his 50 punts have been returned this season. Auburn kicker Cody Parkey leads FBS players with 67 touchbacks and he's 14-for-19 on field goals. The Tigers were one of 17 FBS teams to return both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns this season, and Chris Davis averages 20.1 yards for every punt return.
According to ESPN's strength of schedule metric, FSU has the worst schedule strength ranking (No. 64) of any team to play in the BCS National Championship in the past 10 seasons. The teams with the next-worst SOS rankings (2006 Ohio State, 2007 Ohio State and 2009 Texas) each lost to SEC teams by at least 14 points in the national title game. On the flip side, Auburn has a SOS ranking of No. 29 and has a chance to become the first team in college football history to win three consecutive games against top-5 teams, having defeated then-No. 1 Alabama and then-No. 5 Missouri in its past two games.
The Tigers would seem to have an advantage if Monday night's game is close. According to ESPN Stats & Information, FSU hasn't let an opponent get within single digits in the final 20 minutes of a game all season. In fact, the Seminoles haven't trailed at any point in a game since trailing Boston College on Sept. 28. Since then, Florida State has played 571:49 of football and has been tied or led the entire time. Conversely, Auburn won half of its 12 victories by eight points or fewer. The Tigers are 6-0 this season in one-possession games and are 17-3 in those games over the past four seasons, the best marks among FBS teams.