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 Seminoles will win:
Auburn has a powerful running game behind a veteran offensive line. Auburn will score points. But the Tigers' defense has been vulnerable (34.3 points per game versus six ranked opponents) against offenses less explosive than Florida State. After that, what is Auburn's best asset: Luck, destiny? In a sport that is analyzed and video-studied to death, give me the team whose foundation of success is built on talent and statistics.
It's not just the Heisman. Jameis Winston's combination of athletic talent, infectious enthusiasm and leadership has been an integral part of Florida State's success. He embraced pressure from his very first start, a 25-for-27 performance at Pittsburgh on national TV on Labor Day. Winston threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns. He had a better completion percentage on third down (.681) than first (.656), and a better percentage on third-and-10-plus (.762) than on either. Not to mention Monday is his 20th birthday. That's right: America's best college football player is no longer a teenager.
The chemistry within the Seminoles' locker room must be special, because head coach Jimbo Fisher has been talking about it all season. "It's one of the most unselfish teams I've ever been around," Fisher said Sunday. "They just want to be successful, and whatever their role is and whatever the roles the coaches suggest, that's what they're willing to do, and that's very rare, especially in today's times with the entitlement of kids and if 'Johnny' doesn't have success right now, he's leaving."
Like Auburn fullback Jay Prosch, Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary is an unofficial sixth offensive lineman. Unlike Prosch, O'Leary also contributes with the ball in his hands. O'Leary caught 33 passes for 557 yards, a 16.9-yard average that ranks third on the team. He also caught seven touchdowns.
Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt spent the previous six seasons at Alabama. In Auburn's last regular-season game, the Crimson Tide held Auburn to 393 total yards and 5.78 yards per snap. Pruitt not only runs a scheme much like Saban and Kirby Smart run, he knows the Alabama defensive personnel well enough to understand why they did or didn't make plays. That adds up to advantage, Noles.
One of the keys to Auburn's offense, head coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday, is to "try to make [the defense's] keys lie to them." The discipline needed to stop the Tigers is more likely to come from an experienced team. Florida State has five upperclassmen starting on defense, including linebacker Christian Jones and All-Americans Tim Jernigan at nose guard and Lamarcus Joyner at corner.
Soak up these Florida State defensive numbers: the unit has scored more touchdowns (eight) than it has allowed on the ground (five). Heading into the bowls, the Seminoles' passing defense leads the FBS in yards allowed (152.0), efficiency (90.9), yards per completion (9.5) and interceptions (25). Sixteen players have intercepted a pass; 17 have at least one sack. Yes, Auburn is a run-first team. Florida State allowed only 116.5 yards per game.
We may not know how Florida State will react in a close game, but we know that redshirt freshman kicker Roberto Aguayo made all 90 PATs and 19-of-20 field goals, including 8-of-9 of 40 yards or longer. Aguayo won the Lou Groza Award, given to the best kicker in the FBS. He also had 42 touchbacks out of 113 kickoffs. Think about 113 kickoffs. If nothing else, that means Aguayo's leg is durable.
You can argue about the strength of Florida State's schedule, but if it were easy to beat every team by at least 14 points, another team in the BCS era would have done it. I couldn't find one. The Seminoles have dominated every team in their path. In fact, they haven't been behind since the second quarter of the Boston College game on Sept. 28. That's nine-and-a-half games ago.
It sounds a little Zen to say it this way, but Florida State is going to win because it has better players. My colleague Todd McShay said of the top five prospects for the 2014 NFL draft in the game, four of them will be wearing garnet and gold, and that's only if Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson foregoes leaves early. And that's just NFL prospects. The talent difference extends throughout the lineup.