For the Auburn Tigers, this football season has been the most remarkable accomplishment of all time. After going 3-9 last year, the team brought in a new coach and a new quarterback and had minimal hopes for success. Until about halfway through the season, Auburn wasn’t even ranked, and they really only came into the BCS National Title conversation two weeks ago with their sensational victory over Alabama.
Meanwhile, their opponent in the title game, Florida State, came into the year with high hopes and a decent ranking. Although the departing quarterback E.J. Manuel had left a large hole in the most important position on offense, the Seminoles featured a strong defense and great talent at the skill positions. Incoming Freshman Jameis Winston showed great potential but would be a large question mark heading into the year. He came through all right, throwing for nearly 4,000 years and 38 touchdowns. He has also shown great maturity for a youngster, throwing just 10 interceptions, and he is now a finalist for the Heisman trophy. The team also harbors the number 2 scoring offense in the nation. Defensively, they have been a fortress, and are the top ranked team in points scored against them. How can this Auburn team possibly contend?
The most important thing for Auburn is their ability to control games through their top-ranked rushing attack. They have 3 capable running backs including Heisman hopeful Tre Mason (1621 rushing yards, 22 touchdowns), Corey Grant (650 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns), and Cameron Artis-Payne (609 rushing yards, 6 touchdowns).
But what makes the team the most threatening is their multi-talented quarterback Nick Marshall. The Junior experienced a rough start to his collegiate career, being dismissed by Georgia and having to earn his way back to Division I football through a year at Garden City Community College. But he has succeeded and is a key member of this Auburn team. He routinely runs the option to great success, and even has put up serious numbers on the ground himself (1023 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) amidst his respectable throwing numbers (1759 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and just 5 interceptions). Additionally, with the team’s tendency to run the hurry-up offense, their rushing attack capitalizes on exploiting mismatches and wearing out the opponents’ defenses. Another great factor about Auburn’s fast tempo rushing assault is that they can continue to run even when behind in a game. They did this to marvelous success against Alabama in the Iron Bowl when they were multiple scores behind. Gus Malzahn has clearly worked magic with the Auburn Tigers, taking them from a winless record in the SEC in 2012 to the BCS National Championship game this year!
Now facing one of the top national defenses, the Tigers will be surely tested. But they will also be the strongest matchup that Florida State has faced all year. While FSU’s average score this year has favored them 50-10 over opponents, those teams of the ACC aren’t quite the most challenging teams around. Only Clemson and Miami really stood a chance, and one could argue that they were severely over-ranked when those matches occurred. And so while FSU went undefeated and is statistically favored in this game, Auburn should be pretty evenly matched. And as evidenced by their ridiculous finishes to recent games, the Tigers seem to have luck on their side. They even benefitted from Ohio State’s recent loss just to earn a spot in this game. If there’s a team of destiny, this is it. Remember, an SEC team has won the title 7 years running. The real question should be: does Florida State have any chance at winning a title with a Freshman quarterback who is about to play his first game against a serious SEC contender?
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