January 6th, 2014 10:28 AM║ Posted By: John Pennington ║ Permalink
║ Schools: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Tags: Cool Factor, Hidden Tidbit, Opening Line, TV
The day is finally at hand. Will Auburn’s team of destiny capture a crystal football, the school’s second since 2010? Will Florida State break the SEC’s stranglehold on the national championship game? Will the SEC collect its 8th title in a row? Will great defense beat great offense as it has in so many of those previous title bouts?
Despite Bob Stoops getting the best of Alabama — which led most of the nation to say, “Yeah, the SEC is overrated,” Mike Slive’s league is actually 7-2 in bowl games on the season. Georgia’s tight loss to Nebraska is the only other smudge on the conference’s resume this bowl season. So while FSU does have the better defense and Auburn has reached Pasadena thanks to a pair of once-in-a-lifetime plays, the Tigers are the champions of a league that’s more than held its own this year. This despite a drop in the SEC’s overall defense.
And that brings us back to our biggest question — Will defense once again rule the BCS title game? Read on for our views and prediction…
The Vizio BCS Championship Game
#2 Auburn (12-1) vs Florida State (13-0)
TV: 8:30pm ET on ESPN (and a half-dozen other ESPN properties)
Opening Line: Florida State -7.5
Current Line: Florida State -10
Cool Factor: While not the intersectional battle we like to see in title games, this one’s still for the national championship and that’s pretty darn cool. Interestingly, if the Tigers lose, anyone suggesting that the SEC isn’t really all that will have to admit that it took another Southern team that recruits in the very same SEC zone to snap the SEC’s streak. It will be a big boost for the ACC, but Deep South football will still be king regardless of who wins tonight.
What’s At Stake: Read above. A national title for Auburn or FSU. The SEC’s string of national titles.
Keep An Eye On: Auburn QB Nick Marshall. Florida State will likely get theirs on offense because Ellis Johnson’s defense has been far from brick wall-stout this season. The pressure, then, will be on Auburn to match points with the Seminoles. That means Marshall will not only have to run AU’s offense and run the football himself, he’ll need to have another good night throwing when he’s called upon to do so. Marshall was the league’s ninth best quarterback (in terms of yardage per game), but he did place sixth in SEC passer rating. He’ll need to play like he did versus Mizzou and Bama if the Tigers are to win. In those title-clinching victories, Marshall completed 20-of-27 passes (74.0%) for 229 yards (combined), three TDs and zero interceptions.
Hidden Tidbit 1: The last time Auburn reached the BCS title game, they had Superman on their side. Cam Netwon was the consensus Mr. Everything in 2010. This season, Jameis Winston is the man with all the silverware — Heisman Trophy, Davey O’Brien Award, Walter Camp Award, etc. But unlike Newton, he’s not a dual-threat, rushing for just 193 yards on the season. Instead, he’s a passer of extraordinary talents. A 67.9% completion rate, 3,820 yards through the air, 38 touchdowns to just 10 INTs and a passer rating of 190.0 — all stellar. So what kind of secondary will he be throwing against tonight? A unit that ranked 13th in the SEC in passing yards allowed (3,371), though many Tiger foes had to start throwing once they fell behind. On the season, AU allowed just 17 touchdown passes (not bad) and they pulled down 13 interceptions (middle of the SEC pack). Opposing quarterbacks notched a passer rating of 126.2 versus Auburn, good for just ninth place in their conference. In worse news for the Tigers, ranked opponents had an even easier time throwing against them (64% completions, a 13-5 TD-to-INT ratio, and a passer rating of 162.08). AU fans need to hope that playing on such a big stage will coax some jitters out of Winston, who is still just a freshman. But that’s a hard thing to have to hang your hopes upon.
Hidden Tidbit 2: FSU’s defense is dominant. The Seminoles rank first nationally in scoring defense, 13th in rush defense, first in pass defense, third in total defense, first in interceptions, and fourth in long plays from scrimmage (10+ yards ) allowed. But here’s the thing — Alabama ranks just above or just below Florida State in nearly every one of those categories. And Auburn beat Alabama with a special teams play. Unfortunately, FSU is pretty good in that area, too. In addition to returns and kick and punt coverage, the Noles also boast the nation’s best kicker. Roberto Aguayo is 18 of 19 on field goal attempts, 90 for 90 on extra points, and he’s outscored Florida State’s opponents 147-136 himself. Re-read that last bit. And, no, that’s not a typo.
Hidden Tidbit 3: Turnovers. You knew we’d go down this road. In the SEC’s two bowl losses, turnovers were the difference. Alabama lost that battle to Oklahoma five to one (ouch). Georgia lost that battle to Nebraska two to one. All seven of the SEC teams who’ve won their bowls either broke even or held the advantage on the turnover ledger. It’s really not rocket science, folks. Take care of the football and you’ll most likely win. So which team has been best on the turnover front this season? FSU was tops in the ACC in turnovers forced (34) and in turnover margin (plus-17). Auburn came out even in terms of giveaways and takeaways (18 lost and 18 gained). If AU is to spring the upset, the Tigers will need to do a much better job of forcing turnovers tonight.
Hidden Tidbit 4: If tonight’s ballgame starts slow or turns sloppy, it won’t be the first title game to go in that direction. Both squads have been off for more than a month. Even with practice, it’s hard to believe their won’t be some amount of rust that will have to be knocked off early. The advantage goes to the team that can rev its engine and get rolling first.
Hidden Tidbit 5: Has Florida State been too good, too dominant? Jimbo Fisher’s team has averaged 53 points per game this season. Roll that one around in your head for a bit. The Noles have dominated everyone they’ve played. A 48-34 win over Boston College was FSU’s tightest contest all season long. No other team came within — get this — 27 points of Florida State. Auburn, on the other hand, beat Alabama by six, topped Georgia by five, bested Texas A&M by 4, and won tight games early versus Mississippi State and Washington State, too. If The Tigers can hang around until the fourth quarter the odds might start to move in their favor. They’ve won on tipped Hail Marys and last-second missed field goal returns. At this point, Gus Malzahn’s bunch has to believe they can pull out any game… even if they need 109 yards in the final second. But after 13 blowouts in a row, FSU might get spooked if it looks up and sees it’s in a real, honest-to-goodness football game in the final period. So the trick for Auburn? Get to the fourth quarter within 10 points of Florida State.
Hidden Tidbit 6: While Auburn hasn’t been great on overall defense, the team has excelled in the clutch. The Tigers rank seventh best in America in red zone defense. Opposing teams have scored on just 70.8% of red zone trips and only 44.4% of the time have they scored a touchdown. (FSU ranks #25 in that stat, but — truth be told — the Seminoles have allowed just 26 red zone trips all season while Auburn has allowed 48). Auburn also ranks 21st in the country in third down defense allowing only 34.0% of thirds to be converted. (FSU ranks third nationally allowing just 29.7% conversions.) If AU is to keep this one close to the end they’ll need to force the Noles off the field when they get third-down opportunities to do so and they’ll need to hold State to field goals rather than touchdowns. But in case you’re wondering, Florida State is tops in the nation in red zone offense scoring at a 97.1% clip with 55 touchdowns (and 12 field goals) on 69 red zone trips.
Our Thinking: Before the SEC Championship Game, we picked Missouri because the Tigers had the better defense. A week earlier we picked Alabama because they also had a better defense than Auburn. Tonight, Florida State will have the much better defense. Defense has won championships for the SEC in the past so we’re going to stick with the same logic that Auburn has ignored in those two games mentioned above. We’ll take Florida State, but we would not be the least bit surprised to see Malzahn doused in Gatorade following yet another miracle win tonight.
Prediction: Florida State 44, Auburn 31
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