Thursday, January 2, 2014

Will Auburn or Florida State Be BCS Champ?

The end of one of the craziest college football seasons in my lifetime is only a few days away. The season has brought upset after upset resulting in one title contender after another falling. The season's end will see the BCS go away replaced by a new 4-team playoff, and a brand new NCAA Champ crowned for the first time in three years.

English: Logo of the Southeastern Conference (...
English: Logo of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In an article I wrote back in September, after the completion of the week one games, I said that, "The SEC will not take the crystal trophy home again this year." I also said that I thought that the BCS title game would be between two of the following four teams - Oregon, Stanford, Louisville, Clemson. They all stumbled and fell, and neither myself nor the college football "experts" had Auburn or Florida State (FSU) on our radar as potential title game participants.

Why were they left out? Last year, Auburn went 3-9 and was one of the worst teams in the SEC. Plus, FSU lost 11 players to the NFL at the end of the 2012 season, including starting quarterback EJ Manuel. It appeared 2013 would be a rebuilding year for them, especially considering the fact that they would be starting a freshman quarterback. Both Auburn and FSU have pleasantly surprised their fans who now find their teams just one win away from a national title.

Now the question is, am I sticking to my earlier statement that the SEC will not win the title this year? When the BCS title game teams were first set, my answer would have been "no" for one reason - Auburn finished the year with two fluky, lucky wins. The way they won the Alabama and Georgia games were strange, to put it mildly. They were the kind of finishes and wins that make you say, "It's just their year." However, as I've looked at the matchups and other factors in more depth, I am now sticking by the earlier statement - the SEC's hold on the national championship ends January 6th and Auburn's luck runs out.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit to being an FSU fan, but that is not the reason I think they'll win the game. As I said in the above paragraph, I originally picked Auburn, but a number of factors have changed my mind. FSU has played well this year. They haven't been perfect. Many mistakes have been made, but they have steadily gotten better game by game. Below, I lay out five reasons why I believe FSU wins the BCS championship game - their balanced offense, their quick and physical defense, the month-long layoff, motivational factors, and emotional factors.

FSU's Balanced Offense
English: Sports logo of Auburn University
English: Sports logo of Auburn University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Based upon the offensive stats of both teams, Auburn, as many of you already know, predominately runs the football. They average about 336 yards rushing and only about 170 yards passing each game. They run the football 2/3's of the time, or twice as much as they throw it. They are mainly a one-dimensional offense. FSU, on the other hand, is much more balanced. They average about 207 yards rushing and about 322 yards passing per game. That's about a 40/60 split. FSU's balance offensively makes it much tougher to defend. If Auburn were to shut down the running game, FSU can throw the football, or vice versa. However, if FSU were to shut down Auburn's run game, then you can stick a fork in the Tigers - they're done. By the way, I pulled these stats directly from the two teams websites.

FSU's balanced offense gives them an edge. In fact, if you look back at the one game Auburn lost this year against LSU, Auburn had about a 50/50 split in rushing and passing yardage in the game (213 vs. 224). LSU spanked Auburn by two touchdowns, winning 35-21. That game alone makes it clear that if you take away Auburn's reliance on the run, you beat them.

FSU's Quick, Physical Defense

FSU's defense has shown time and time again this year that they are not only physical, but fast. They generate turnovers and make adjustments during the game as good as any team in the country. Auburn is physical and has played some physical teams during their SEC schedule. However, the Auburn offense has not been up against a defense that combines both quickness and physicality, like FSU's. If LSU can cause Auburn's offense problems, it's a safe bet that FSU can, too, and likely cause more problems than LSU did.

The Layoff

Both teams come into the game with a month layoff. So, who does that favor? I think it may hurt the FSU offense more than it does Auburn's. However, it is a huge advantage for FSU's defense. Defensive Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and company have had a month to go over the tape of the LSU / Auburn game and put together a defensive scheme to slow down, or maybe even stop, Auburn's run game. The long layoff benefits FSU's defense most. The FSU offense will be fine once it gets in a rhythm.


FSU Logo
FSU Logo (Photo credit: Larry Tomlinson)
You shouldn't need much motivation to play for the national championship. It's what you play the game for - to be the best. Both teams want that last, crystal, BCS Championship Trophy. However, I think FSU is more motivated for a couple of reasons :
  1. FSU's last national championship was 14 years ago after the 1999 season. Auburn last won it after the 2010 season. The FSU football program has a reputation for being one of the best and a place where champions are made. The team, the university, and its fans are really hungry for a title.
  2. Little respect has been shown to FSU, other teams, and other conferences by the SEC and its fans, as well as the sports media over the last several years. The disrespect, in my opinion, has been even worse this year with talk that "only SEC teams can win national championships." I've even heard people say that if a team is not in the SEC, it doesn't even deserve to play in the championship game. Even though FSU players I've heard interviewed over the last few days have said they're not paying attention to that stuff, I gotta think it's in the back of their minds at least. Football players have long memories and the disrespect will be a motivational factor on January 6th. Mark it down.
  3. Near the end of the regular season, the Jameis Winston sexual assault investigation raised its ugly head. No charges ended up being filed against the FSU quarterback. However, it seemed to me, while watching FSU's games at the end of the year, that at least some of the players took the whole thing personally. They did not like all the negative press their teammate and team were receiving. They came together and used it to build team cohesion. It motivated them in the beatdown of Florida and Idaho, and it seemed to carry over into the win over Duke in the ACC Championship Game, too. I'm sure the investigation will be brought up again leading up to the national championship game. Auburn would be wise to request a gag order in regards to it. That whole investigation pissed off the FSU football team. They haven't gotten over it, either.

On Christmas Day, it was reported that a grandson of former FSU Head Coach Bobby Bowden was killed in a car accident shortly after the family had celebrated Christmas together. I always liked Coach Bowden. He is the main reason I am an FSU fan. My heart goes out to him and his family. He grew the FSU football program tremendously and helped the young men he coached. He built FSU into a powerhouse and won two national championships while at the helm. Coach Bowden came back to FSU this season for the first time since his departure and attended two football games. He received a hero's welcome, too.

Football is not only a game of X's and O's, but also of emotion. FSU has ridden an emotional roller coaster this year, and the loss of Bowden's grandson means the ride lasts a little longer. On top of all the other reasons I've laid out as to why I think FSU wins this ballgame, I'll throw the whole "win one for the Gipper" sentiment in there, too.


FSU Football
FSU Football (Photo credit: D Wilkinson)
I've heard a lot of talk and read many articles leading up to this football game. Most of what I've heard and read has been along the lines of, "FSU's defense can't stop the Auburn run game." I've thought to myself each time, "Really? They might. They might not, but what makes you think Auburn's defense can slow down or stop FSU's offense? After all, Auburn gave up 42 points to Missouri. Auburn has not faced one offense this year with as much talent as FSU."

Now, in regards to how the game goes, I think the layoff will cause FSU's offense to start a little slow, but it will get going. I think Auburn scores first, but then the fireworks will start for FSU after a big play by the FSU defense. Those guys have done it all year. The oddsmakers have FSU as a 8-9 point favorite. However, I don't think the game is that close at the end. I think FSU wins by at least two touchdowns, and it's possible that FSU might blow Auburn out.

Stick a fork in the SEC's hold on the national championship - it's done. I'm picking Florida State to win 38-24.

Go 'Noles!
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