Pasadena, CA (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Florida State Seminoles and second-ranked Auburn Tigers will collide in Pasadena on Jan. 6, in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game at famed Rose Bowl Stadium.
Jimbo Fisher has done a tremendous job in Tallahassee. In just his fourth season at the helm, he has restored Florida State to national prominence and on the cusp of its third-ever national title. The Seminoles have run roughshod over the competition this season, entering this contest as the nation's only undefeated team at 13-0. Marquee wins along the way in 2013 include routs of Clemson (51-14), Miami-Florida (41-14), Florida (37-7) and finally Duke (45-7) in the ACC Championship Game.
The team has captured back-to-back ACC titles under Fisher, who is an impressive 44-10 thus far with the Seminoles. As a result, the school has recently rewarded Fisher with a contract extension through the 2018 campaign.
Florida State has been a mainstay in postseason play, with 43 all-time bowl game appearances. The team's current bowl streak has now reached a national- best 32, with an all-time bowl record of 26-14-2, including wins in each of its last five bowl games. This is the team's eighth BCS Bowl appearance, although it is just 2-5 in its previous matchups.
In terms of BCS National Championship Games, this marks FSU's fourth. The Seminoles played in the first three championship games from 1998-2000, beating Virginia Tech in 1999, sandwiched around losses to Tennessee in 1998 and Oklahoma in 2000.
Fisher addressed FSU's unique path back to the national title game.
"I was in the SEC a long time, I coached there 15 years, and I remember the SEC couldn't crack it was always fighting to get somebody in saying we were good. Then all of a sudden, you know, Oklahoma and that group had their run, and USC had their run and now the SEC has their run. They have had a tremendous amount of success, have a great league and are playing great football. But it is kind of ironic that things always go in circles and come in cycles like that that everything comes back around to where it started and it's very unique that the SEC, which is dominating now, Florida State which was in the first three National Championships '98, '99 and 2000 and all those National Championship games, it's kind of funny how it has come full circle like that and I do appreciate the history of college football that way, and we all complained about the BCS and everything that goes on, but it's funny how many times they get it right and how the history just keeps repeating itself."
What has taken Fisher four years to accomplish, Gus Malzahn has done in just one. After an ugly 3-9 finish in 2012 that included an 0-8 record in- conference, Malzahn has directed Auburn to a 12-1 overall record in his first season at the helm, with Auburn dethroning two-time national champion Alabama (34-28) along the way to capture the SEC West Division and then finishing off with a 59-42 shootout win over Missouri for the SEC Championship. The team's lone loss of the season came on the road at powerhouse LSU (35-21) on Sept. 21, but Auburn ran the table after that, with wins in each of its last nine games to earn a spot in the national title game.
Auburn will attempt to keep the SEC's stranglehold on the national championship, with the conference winning each of the last seven titles. The Tigers have been part of that run, winning the national title just three years ago, led by Heisman winner Cam Newton, as Auburn upended Oregon (22-19) to cap off the 2010 season.
The Tigers are 22-13-2 in postseason play all-time and are currently tied with Florida State with five straight bowl victories.
Auburn holds a 13-4-1 advantage over Florida State in a series that dates back to 1954. The last meeting took place in 1990, a 20-17 Auburn victory at home. Florida State won the only previous postseason matchup between these two squads, a 13-7 decision in the Sugar Bowl following the 1988 campaign.
It was a record-setting season for Florida State on the offensive side of the ball, and a lot of that was a result of a record-setting performance by its freshman signal caller. Despite off the field turmoil, Jameis Winston took control of the Heisman Trophy race rather early on and eventually ran away with the award, en route to consensus All-American honors.
Leading a prolific attack that ranked second in scoring (53.0 ppg) and fifth in total offense (529.4 ypg), the 6-foot-4 Winston was in complete control, throwing for 3,820 yards and a freshman record 38 touchdowns, on an efficient 67.9 percent completion percentage. He led the nation in pass efficiency rating at 190.06.
It certainly helped to have the nation's top receiving unit at his disposal, as wideouts Rashad Greene (67 receptions, 981 yards, 9 TDs), Kenny Shaw (52 receptions, 929 yards, 6 TDs) and Kelvin Benjamin (50 receptions, 957 yards, 14 TDs), as well as tight end Nick O'Leary (33 receptions, 557 yards, 7 TDs) all possess NFL talent.
It almost doesn't seem fair that an offense so talent-rich in the passing game, has unmatched depth in the backfield as well, but FSU has also dominated on the ground this season, averaging 207.4 yards rushing per game, behind the steady play of tailbacks DeVonta Freeman (943 yards, 13 TDs), Karlos Williams (705 yards, 11 TDs) and James Wilder Jr. (542 yards, 8 TDs).
Of course, it has all been made possible by perhaps the nation's most dominant offensive line, highlighted by All-ACC performers Cameron Erving, Tre' Jackson and Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Award as the nation's top center.
There were plenty of accolades to throw around on the defensive side of the football for Florida State this season as well. The Seminoles led the nation in scoring defense (10.7 ppg) and pass defense (161.5 ypg) and third in total defense (258.5 ypg). The squad also finished atop the nation in interceptions, with 25 on the year.
Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner had a huge season and was a unanimous All-American selection as a result. The 5-foot-8 senior may be the most versatile defender in the nation, as he finished the season second on the team in tackles (64) and first in sacks (5), while posting 6.5 TFL, two interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Joining Joyner on the All-ACC First-Team were linebacker Telvin Smith (team-high 75 tackles, 9.5 TFL, two sacks, three INTs and two forced fumbles), defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (54 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks) and safety Terrence Brooks (50 tackles, 7.0 TFL, one sack and two INTs).
Auburn has a knack for wearing down defenses with its ground and pound style of play. The Tigers boast one of the nation's top rushing attacks, abusing opponents to the tune of 335.7 yards per game on a hefty 6.5 yards per carry.
Although he didn't come home with the award, tailback Tre Mason joined FSU's Winston in New York for the Heisman presentation as a finalist. Mason was unstoppable this season, amassing 1,621 yards and 22 TDs, finishing ninth nationally at 124.7 yards per game. Mason averaged 5.7 yards per carry as a true workhorse, as he handled the ball a team-high 283 times this season on the ground.
When Mason doesn't get the ball, first-year starting QB Nick Marshall usually keeps it. The former Georgia DB and juco QB, pulls the trigger for the Auburn offense and has been masterful at times, as a dual-threat.
Marshall rushed for just over 1,000 yards this season (1,023) and 11 touchdowns, while passing for 1,759 yards and 12 more scores. As expected with a run-oriented team, Auburn doesn't have a go-to-receiver that can take over games. Sophomore Sammy Coates led all receivers this season with 38 receptions, for 841 yards and seven TDs.
While the Auburn offense dominated at times, the defense wasn't as productive. The Tigers ranked a disappointing 88th nationally in total defense (423.5 ypg allowed), while yielding 260.2 yards per game passing (104th nationally).
Despite the penchant for giving up big plays through the air, Auburn was still able to collect 28 sacks on the season. Defensive end Dee Ford led the charge in that area. The 6-foot-2 senior led the Tigers in both TFL (12.5) and sacks (8.5). Freshman end Carl Lawson showed flashes of brilliant play as well, posting 7.5 TFL and 4.0 sacks among his 20 total tackles. Cornerback Chris Davis, who had perhaps the biggest play of the season with a 109-yard return on a missed field goal to beat Alabama, leads the team in tackles from his cornerback position, amassing 69 stops to go with a team-high 14 passes defended.
On the verge of losses down the stretch, Auburn's ability to make plays and come together as a team towards one goal is what has impressed Malzahn the most.
"The unique thing from my standpoint is this team finds a way to win, and it's really bizarre that how they complement each other -- the offense, the defense, special teams," Malzahn said. "When the pressure's on, our team's at the best, and it's been really something to be a part of."