Monday, January 6: BCS title game in Pasadena, CA at 8:30 pm EST
#1 Florida State Seminoles (13-0) vs. #2 Auburn Tigers (12-1)
The undefeated Seminoles face SEC champ Auburn for all the BCS marbles.
Vegas line/spread: Florida State by 9 (over/under 65)
Florida State is a pretty big favorite with the oddsmakers. The line has ranged from 7 1/2 to 9 points, with 8 1/2 and 9 the most common spots currently. A high-scoring game is expected but the over/under has dropped a couple of points to 65.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. Spread
To the Strength power rating, there is no question: FSU is a huge favorite, and they win 7 of 8 game comparisons and about 3/4 against the spread. The Seminoles are far and away #1 in the power rating, and despite their success Auburn is only #11 in the nation in average game performance.
Strength power rating: Florida State 47, Auburn 27 by Median rating: FSU 47-27
Florida State scoring offense: #2 vs. Auburn scoring defense: #29
Florida State scoring defense: #4 vs. Auburn scoring offense: #7
Our power rating predicts a blowout, pretty much, yielding a 20-point spread. FSU's offense rates beyond only Baylor, and their defense follows behind Stanford, Alabama, and Michigan State. That combination of top 5 offense and defense is rarely seen, even in a #1 team, and puts them in company with national champs such as 1999 FSU, 2001 Miami, 2004 USC, and 2005 Texas—and right now, this year's team outrates them all. Auburn has a top ten offense but their defense lags; they've made up the difference in luck.
Yardage analysis: Florida State 43, Auburn 27 per-play: Florida State 49, Auburn 34
Yardage differential: Florida State #3 vs. Auburn #20
Florida State total offense: #8 vs. Auburn total defense: #61
Florida State total defense: #6 vs. Auburn total offense: #12
By yardage only it's a bit closer. Florida State is #3 in adjusted yardage differential but Auburn is just #20. The Seminoles are still top ten in both offense and defense and Auburn is close, but the Tigers are #61 on defense—in other words, they give up a hell of a lot of yards. It's to their credit that this yardage isn't converted into points for the other team at a very high rate.
In any case, this projection shows Florida State gaining well over 500 yards of total offense and Auburn gaining around 400. That coverts to about a 16 point spread. Using per-play figures, FSU could average 10 yards per pass play while the rushing averages for the teams are nearly even (around 5). This results in an even higher-scoring game with around the same margin.
Adjustments to yardage estimate: Florida State 45, Auburn 30
- Interceptions: Auburn may have the edge here despite FSU's takeaway defense—mostly because the Tigers don't pass much. It's worth about a point.
- Forced fumbles: The Tigers don't force many fumbles and cough up the ball more since they run a lot. FSU gets almost 3 points here.
- Sacks: Auburn will probably win the sacks battle, on averege this is a near-2-point edge.
- Red zone%: Auburn's red zone play is pretty fantastic, with the #6 offense and #9 defense. FSU has the #3 offense so they don't lose any points, but Auburn gains about 3 points.
- 3rd-down%: FSU is #7 in both adjusted 3rd down offense and defense. Auburn is solid, too, ranking #20 and #11, but we still see a swing toward the Seminoles of around 2 points.
- Special Teams: Auburn is #29 and Florida State #42 in special teams by ESPN's advanced stats, an edge of about 1/2 point.
Summary: After all that, the yardage-estimate spread narrows by just 1 point.
When Florida State has the ball
|Florida State rushing offense: #30
||Auburn rushing defense: #44
Devonta Freeman leads the team with 943 yards; Karlos Williams is #2 with 705, and James Wilder, Jr is 3rd with 542. They have 32 touchdowns between them. Auburn has faced some good rushing teams this year and done pretty well, so the Seminoles should have around 185 yards.
|Florida State passing offense: #13||Auburn passing defense: #86 per att: #50|
|Florida State interceptions thrown ranking: #69||Auburn interceptions picked ranking: #61|
|Florida State quarterback protection rank: #72||Auburn pass rush rank: #37|
Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston passed for 3,820 yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a redshirt freshman. Three receivers are this close to 1,000 yards: Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin, and Kenny Shaw need 19, 43, and 71 respectively to hit the mark. They have 29 TDs between them. Auburn's pass defense isn't very good, so Winston could have around 340 yards.
Winston isn't terribly interception prone and Auburn has just 13 on the year, so their better bet is to try to pressure him. Auburn's Dee Ford came through big to sack Johnny Manziel to win the Texas A&M game, and he has 8.5 sacks on the year. Winston has been sacked 23 times; the team's #72 rating is skewed lower by Jacob Coker's 5 sacks vs. 36 pass attempts.
When Auburn has the ball
|Auburn rushing offense: #1
||Florida State rushing defense: #12
Tre Mason became a sudden sensation for his work vs. Alabama and particularly his 300 yards vs. Missouri. Mason finished with 1,621 rushing yards while QB Nick Marshall topped 1,000 himself. Two others, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne, topped 600 apiece, making Auburn the #1 opponent-adjusted rushing team in the country. FSU's rushing defense is good but it will be tested, big time. The Seminoles' closest game was against Boston College when Andre Williams rushed for 149 yards and the team for 200. We see Auburn rushing for about 290 in the bowl game.
|Auburn passing offense: #104||Florida State passing defense: #3 per att: #1|
|Auburn interceptions thrown ranking: #5||Florida State interceptions picked ranking: #1|
|Auburn quarterback protection rank: #29||Florida State pass rush rank: #44|
Nick Marshall has 1,759 passing yards and Jeremy Johnson adds 422. Together they have 18 touchdown passes and 7 interceptions. Sammie Coates is the only receiver of note with 841 yards and 7 TDs. Florida State's #3 pass defense (#1 per-attempt) is almost wasted here. We see Auburn topping 100 yards but not by very much.
Florida State has the country's best takeaway pass defense, with 25 interceptions. Interestingly, no player has more than 4 picks and only 6 have 2 or more. 16 players have recorded an interception; they're everywhere on the field. It's a good thing for Auburn they're not a pass-heavy team.
Marshall has been sacked 16 times; Florida State's pass rush is nothing like it was last year and again, it's the running game that Auburn will be using for the most part.
Florida State's season (13-0)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (7)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (2)
Losses (0) to losing teams (0)
- @ Pittsburgh W 41-13
- Nevada W 62- 7
- Bethune-Cookman W 54- 6
- @ Boston College W 48-34
- Maryland W 63- 0
- @ #12 Clemson W 51-14
- North Carolina St W 49-17
- Miami FL W 41-14
- @ Wake Forest W 59- 3
- Syracuse W 59- 3
- Idaho W 80-14
- @ Florida W 37- 7
- @ #24 Duke W 45- 7
Florida State's early games could have been misleading, as the competition level was pretty low as they won 41-13, 62-7, and 54-6. When they only beat Boston College by 14, it seemed clear that tougher teams would give them trouble, and 4-0 Maryland might be their first really tight game.
Instead, the Seminoles mauled the Terrapins 63-0. Surely, though, a strong and confident Clemson would challenge them this year in South Carolina? Nope, FSU won on the road, 51-14. That game was a classic "tell" that a team might be the best in the nation. Instead people downgraded Clemson as not the real deal. FSU beat Miami 41-14 but now everyone says that game means nothing. What does it take?
Maybe beating two conference foes each 59-3, back to back? Well, that's just Wake Forest and Syracuse. So any team could do it? I guess so.
Florida was terrible this year, and Duke, well that's a basketball school. You can excuse any and all of FSU's big wins. But the Seminoles faced two BCS top 25 teams and beat them by a combined score of 96-21; that doesn't happen too often.
Auburn's season (12-1)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (9)
Wins vs. BCS Top 25 teams (4)
Losses (1) to losing teams (0)
- Washington St W 31-24
- Arkansas St W 38- 9
- Mississippi St W 24-20
- @ #16 LSU L 21-35
- Mississippi W 30-22
- Western Carolina W 62- 3
- @ #21 Texas A&M W 45-41
- Florida Atlantic W 45-10
- @ Arkansas W 35-17
- @ Tennessee W 55-23
- #22 Georgia W 43-38
- #3 Alabama W 34-28
- = #8 Missouri W 59-42
Through four games Auburn was a pretty average team, and at 3-1 a bowl game wasn't guaranteed. They'd beaten Washington State by a touchdown and Mississippi State by four points. And lost to LSU 35-14.
But they started to get better on offense, slowly but surely, as Gus Malzahn's system clicked and Nick Marshall figured some things out. They scored 30 on Ole Miss, and 62 against Western Carolina. The key game was #7, when they managed to keep up with Johnny Football and win it in the end. They scored 45 the next week too vs. FAU.
By this time the offense was one of the nation's best and after beating Arkansas and Tennessee they took a huge lead on Georgia, only to see it evaporate. But they had a crazy, lucky play in their back pocket and won the game on the Immaculate Deflection. Facing Alabama, they matched them stride for stride and again were in position for a lucky play to win the game. Missouri was yet another shootout but they had a lot more ammo in the end.
The team's offensive chart slopes up not unlike the 2010 Auburn team with Cam Newton. Malzahn was offensive coordinator that year and Marshall and Tre Mason are following the same growth pattern that Newton had. The defense is no worse than it was in 2010. What they don't have is a passing game like Newton provided, but you can't have it all.
Auburn has just one questionable starter on defense. FSU is also in pretty good shape overall.
Psychology/Motivation - Some (unscientific) factors that may come into play during the game:
- Florida State's season: +2 wins; Auburn's season: +9 wins
- Florida State's momentum: +0 wins; Auburn's momentum: +1 win
- Florida State won final game: YES; Auburn won final game: YES
- Florida State glad to be there? yes; Auburn glad to be there: yes
- Florida State time zones from home: 3; Auburn time zones from home: 2;
- Florida State coaching situation: stable; Auburn coaching situation: stable
There is rarely much to talk about here when it's the national championship game, since any question of teams "wanting to be there" is moot. Teams generally won their last games and had a great season if they're here. The main thing to address psychologically is overconfidence on the favorite's part, but that's probably not an issue here.
There is a big difference on how these teams got here from last year. Florida State had an excellent season and won a BCS bowl last year. Auburn, however, was 3-9 last year. They have 8 or 9 more wins depending on whether you count the SEC title game as part of the regular season.
Auburn also might have some of the "team of destiny" feeling that a team can get when they seem to be riding a combination of great play and fortuitousness. Ohio State in 2002 was probably the last "team of destiny" that made it to the national championship due to lots of luck and then went on to win in an upset. It doesn't always work out, though—Notre Dame was certainly a very lucky team last year and probably thought nothing could stop them into they ran into a wall vs. Alabama.
Here's the scenario: an undefeated, traditional football power, ranked #1 in the polls, boasting the landslide winner for the Heisman Trophy at quarterback is playing for the BCS championship. This team has blown away almost every team they've faced, and is more than a touchdown favorite to win the game, and ranks #1 in our power rating.
Their opponents are the SEC champs who have suffered 1 conference loss (in a road game) and needed some luck and for some other teams to lose to get the chance they now have. They are only #11 in our power rating.
The teams? Ohio State and Florida, circa 2006. The result? Florida 41, Ohio State 14
Anything can happen in college football, and the example above proves it. Some people have been comparing Auburn with 2002 Ohio State because of the luck they've needed in close games, but the situation is a lot closer to Florida-Ohio State 2006.
Is today's situation with Florida State and Auburn just history ready to repeat itself? What's different about today's scenario?
For one thing, Florida State was not the year's crowned champion like Ohio State was in 2006. Those Buckeyes started #1 and finished the regular season #1, and over time felt that they were invincible. They certainly went into the championship game way overconfident. Florida State only became #1 a few weeks ago and they're hungrier. 2006 Ohio State was four years out from their last national title; FSU is going on 14 years.
Florida State is not getting the credit they deserve for what they've done. In 2006 Ohio State was called one of the best teams of all time even though they edged Michigan 42-39 and barely beat 2-10 Illinois 17-10. It seemed that once they beat Texas on the road, 24-7, there was nothing more they had to do to earn respect. FSU on the other hand can beat BCS bowl teams by 37 points on the road and it's discounted because that team had a 2nd loss. While Auburn is getting all the attention for their crazy wins—which is completely deserved—no one's paying attention to the other remarkable fact: that this year's Florida State is playing like of the best college football teams of all time.
This year no one's treating the title game as a foregone conclusion, and that's a big difference. Any team that can beat Alabama has to be reckoned with. Much of the public seems surprised that FSU is favored by so much, or that they're favored at all. Florida State still has something to prove, which Ohio State didn't have in 2006. Many people would be more surprised by a big FSU win than they would by an Auburn victory.
Our Strength power rating would have had Ohio State a 10 point favorite in 2006; Florida State is closer to a 20-point favorite today. So this would be an upset an order of magnitude greater. Yet I personally gave Florida no chance back then, but realize Auburn could beat the Seminoles on January 6th. Part of that is the precedent that Florida set by beating Ohio State; the rest is just the "feeling" that this game is in contention, a feeling I didn't have back then.
But when big upsets happen, there's usually a psychological reason—normally overconfidence on the part of the favorite (see 1983 Nebraska, facing an unheralded 1-loss Miami team). Florida State doesn't seem to be a good candidate for that.
If Auburn wins it will be because they were good enough to beat the Seminoles, not because they caught them getting careless. The Tigers have improved dramatically from the beginning of the season. During the first four games they were just an above-average team. So it's unfair to them to grade their quality using every game of the season; just the last five or six are probably representative. Yet despite this improvement, they never quite reached the level that FSU played at all year long on average. The 2010 Auburn team had a similar trajectory and by the time of the bowl game, they'd improved even more, enough to beat juggernaut Oregon.
The 2010 Auburn win wasn't an upset by the oddsmakers. This one would be. And let's face it, as good as he is Nick Marshall is no Cam Newton. With Marshall and Tre Mason this will easily be the strongest rushing team the Seminoles have faced, and that will test their defense like no other team has.
But Florida State is good enough to deal with the Tigers. And without the almost-necessary condition of overconfidence, we have to think that a motivated Florida State team will prove they're the best in the country by beating Auburn handily.
Prediction: Florida State 45, Auburn 34
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2013-2014 bowl game schedule.