Powerful Florida State obstacle for Cinderella Tigers - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 8:02 pm / Updated at 8:13 pm
FOOTBALL
Powerful Florida State obstacle for Cinderella Tigers
BCS Championship: Florida State vs. Auburn
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
TV: ESPN

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Team Destiny vs. Team Domination.

Before the BCS is replaced next year by a playoff, No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn will meet in its last title game Monday at the Rose Bowl.

The Seminoles (13-0) ripped through their schedule on the way to Pasadena, winning each game by at least 14 points behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.

“I still think our best game is out there,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Sunday. “I'm looking forward to playing it on Monday night, and our kids are looking forward to the challenge.”

The turnaround Tigers (12-1) are the most unlikely group ever to reach the BCS championship game. Auburn went from 3-9 last year to SEC champions in their first season under coach Gus Malzahn. It was a wild ride. The Prayer at Jordan-Hare beat Georgia. The Kick-Six beat Alabama. Destiny? Fate? Luck? The Tigers don't see it that way.

“Hey, I know we're a team of hard work, I know that,” said tailback Tre Mason, a Heisman finalist who has run for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns for the No. 1 rushing offense in the country. “These guys put a lot of hard work in with me every day, blood, sweat and tears all year long.”

Auburn is the first team to reach the BCS championship game after having a losing season the previous season, and would become the first national champion to start the season unranked since BYU in 1984.

After 16 years of the BCS, the routine is familiar the day before the big game.

The coaches hold their final early morning press conferences, and then take a few minutes to shake hands with each other, exchange pleasantries and pose for pictures with the crystal football trophy that goes to the winner.

On Sunday it was Fisher, the fast-talking West Virginian and Nick Saban disciple, and Malzahn, who has gone from high school coach in Arkansas to the national championship game in eight years, running the drill.

Malzahn, who was the Tigers' offensive coordinator when they won the 2010 national title, said Sunday he told his players before the season one of their goals was to make the biggest turnaround in college football. Done. Auburn has already matched the 2000 Hawaii team for most improved record in FBS history.

Malzahn's up-tempo, spread offense is a combination of deception and power that seemingly gets better every game. Against Missouri in the SEC championship game, Auburn ran for 545 yards.

Fisher has put together the most talented two-deep depth in the country, a collection of five-star recruits and NFL prospects reminiscent of coach Bobby Bowden's best Florida State teams. The Seminoles won two national titles under Fisher's Hall of Fame predecessor and played in the first three BCS title games. The Seminoles haven't been back since the 2000 season.

A prodigy led them.

Winston turns 20 Monday. The redshirt freshman became the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy, setting FBS records for most yards passing by a freshman (3,820) and touchdown passes (38). His only problems came off the field.

On the field, the Seminoles outscored their opponents by 42 points per game and have not trailed since Sept. 28. Winston and the rest of the starters have spent most fourth quarters relaxing. The ACC was no match for the Seminoles. Will the lack of stiff, four-quarter tests and not the most difficult of schedules put Florida State at a disadvantage?

The 'Noles say nonsense.

“I can't help that another team can't keep up with us,” linebacker Telvin Smith said.

Florida State is also trying to break the SEC's grip on the national championship. The streak is at seven, but never has the SEC team been as big an underdog (Auburn is getting 10 points from oddsmakers).

The Seminoles are fine being the favorites.

“I'm glad everybody's calling Auburn a team of destiny,” Winston said, “because at Florida State we control our own destiny.”

Five things to watch

Florida State started the season ranked just outside the top 10. Quickly it became apparent the Seminoles were much better than that.

Auburn started this season picked to finish fifth in the SEC West. Coming off a 3-9 season with no Southeastern Conference victories, the Tigers steadily climbed up the rankings with a string of surprising, sometimes stunning, victories.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a team come as far as we have,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “The first game of the season we were probably average at best.”

The top-ranked Seminoles and No. 2 Tigers will meet Monday at the Rose Bowl in the final BCS title game.

Star power: Florida State’s Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, is on pace to break the NCAA record for passer efficiency rating (190.1) and has already set records for yards passing (3,820) and TD passes (38) for a freshman. Auburn’s Tre Mason, a Heisman finalist, ran for 304 yards on 46 carries in Auburn’s SEC title game win and ranks ninth in the nation at 124.7 yards per game.

Coaches: Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher is in his fourth season since taking over for the great Bobby Bowden. The program has gotten steadily better, and this year, it’s been vintage Seminoles. Malzahn is in his first year as head coach, but just two years ago, he was Auburn’s offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik. He directed the offense that helped Auburn win the 2010 national title.

Defensive difference: While both teams have offenses among the top 10 in the nation in yards per play — Florida State is No. 1 and Auburn is eighth — the Seminoles seem to have a huge advantage on the defensive side. They are second in the nation in yards per play allowed at 3.95 and have potential All-Americans at every level, including DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Telvin Smith and DB Lamarcus Joyner. Auburn’s defense ranks 95th in the country in yards per play allowed at 5.96, but this is a different kind of SEC. Offenses have ruled, and defensive stats have gotten skewed by high-powered offenses. The Tigers have a quick defensive front led by DEs Dee Ford and Carl Lawson. The good news for Auburn is Florida State has never had to stop what the Tigers will run at it. “The productivity is amazing with what they have been able to do,” Fisher said about Auburn’s head-spinning read-option.

Tempo: Auburn likes to go fast and few coaches use tempo as well as Malzahn. The Tigers average 71 plays per game with their spread attack, but would like to be in the 80s. FSU’s Fisher is in no rush at all. Running more of a typical pro-style offense, the Seminoles average 67 plays per game — which makes their prolific offense even more impressive.

Head-to-head: There’s not much recent history between these teams. The last time they played was 1990 and Auburn won 20-17. Their only bowl meeting was the 1989 Sugar Bowl and Florida State won 22-14. The Tigers lead the overall series 13-4-1, though Bowden was 4-5 against Auburn.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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