I am often asked my opinion on things that involve football. The questions range from how to find which player position best suits a child to who I think will win the Super Bowl, and pretty much everything in between. I have many thoughts on the game, on coaching, and on improving performance, so I am starting Passing Thoughts to share some of those thoughts. I welcome your comments and conversation. –KR

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Florida State v. Auburn: Championship Preview

The BCS games this year have provided great and memorable football moments as we have watched some tremendous players from the best big programs in the nation compete in the bowl spotlight. As the BCS draws to a close, football fans are anticipating more of the same in a heated matchup between No. 1 Florida State vs No. 2 Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Florida State comes into this game as the nation’s only undefeated team at 13-0, and they won all of their games by at least 14 points.  Florida State is #1 in scoring at 53 points per game and #1 in points against at 10.7 points per game.  The Florida State offense is #14 in passing yards at 322.0/game and 23rd in rushing yards at 207.4/game.  

Auburn comes into the game with a 12-1 record and as champion of the SEC, which has won the past seven national championships.  Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn was the Offensive Coordinator under the previous team that won the title, and he has helped Auburn go from worst to first.  They are now one victory away from their second national title in four years.

While Auburn has had a magical season beating Georgia on a Hail Mary pass, then defeating Alabama with the “Kick Six” that ended the game in unbelievable fashion, they are not as balanced as Florida State with an offense that is #107 in passing at 169.6yards/game and 1st in rushing at 335.7 yards per game. Auburn has the 10th overall offense at 40.2 points per game and 38th defense at 24.0 points per game given up.

Nick Marshall, Auburn's QB, has been hot the last 4 games, rushing for 503 yards and 6 TD's while passing for a 163.5 passer rating, 4 TD's and no interceptions in the last 3 games.  Marshall needs to keep this trend in the Championship game. Auburn needs to control the ball and can not give FSU any turnovers.  This will be a very difficult task against the FSU defense. FSU has 16 different players with an INT, and they only allow 152.0 yards per game passing (#1 in the nation). FSU is just as good against the rush, only giving up 93 yards per game.

So if you are tuning in at 7:30 on January 6th, the key thing to watch is the matchup between Florida State's highly ranked defense and the nearly unstoppable Auburn run game. This is a great matchup, and it will be fun to see what schemes the teams have put in place and how both sides adjust their skills to excellent opponents. Auburn’s offense is #1 in rushing and revolves heavily around its rushing attack. They present a spread look, but it is more of a deception, because they want to spread out the defense and create space for their running game. Will Florida State have the players in the trenches that can take away seams and the large running lanes that Auburn has relied on to win?

If you haven't watched Jameis Winston play, this is your chance to see the redshirt-freshman Heisman Trophy winner in action. He has definitely been a difference-maker for the Florida State offense and has led his team to solid victories all season. A lot of pressure comes with winning the Heisman, so we will see if Winston handles the pressure of winning and traveling all over the country away from his team, losing out on film time, meetings, and practice time. There has not been a very high success rate for previous Heisman Trophy winners in big games after winning the award. This is also Winston's first full season of playing college football and he has really not been tested much since Florida State has won every game by more than 14 points. Will Auburn be able to put pressure on Winston and force him into poor decisions? So far, he has handled everything thrown at him this year and seems to have a very calm and collective demeanor that you do not see with most young players.

As with most big games, turnovers will likely be the deciding factor. Neither team wants to give the other team any extra possessions. Florida State has been very good this season in creating turnovers and staying at a +17 in the turnover margin. Florida State’s defense plays very fast and aggressive, and they force teams to make quick decisions that can easily lead to careless turnovers. Auburn is even on the season for their turnover ratio. They have not forced many turnovers this season and can ill afford to turn the ball over to the very explosive Florida State team. Auburn may not have forced many turnovers, but they have capitalized on some big ones in big games to find ways to win. Both of these teams are hoping to play mistake-free football, and whichever team manages the turnover factor best is likely to come out the winner of this game.

It looks to be another exciting National Championship game! Enjoy!

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