Pick 6: Key matchups for BCS championship game
No. 1 Florida State has not played a game all season decided in the fourth quarter. The Seminoles have been the most dominant team in the country, albeit against a schedule that has not been nearly as tough as the one No. 2 Auburn has played.
Still, the Seminoles have the most talented two-deep depth chart in the country, loaded with five-star recruits and NFL prospects, starting with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
The Tigers have the top-ranked running game (335.7 yards per game) as their trump card. Coach Gus Malzahn's up-tempo, spread offense often looks unstoppable.
Here are six matchups that will help determine the winner of the BCS championship game Monday night in the Rose Bowl, with some analysis from Xs and Os expert Chris Brown, who writes the Smart Football blog.
Auburn is not much of a downfield passing team, but as Brown put it, the Tigers get a lot of ''free yardage'' throwing quick short passes and screens with the field spread. The Seminoles' cornerbacks are the best they have faced this season. Brown said if Joyner and company can play tight man-to-man on Auburn's receivers, the Seminoles can load the box against the Tigers' running game to make up for their relatively light linebackers such as Telvin Smith (218 pounds). As Brown points out, for all the misdirection and speed sweeps that Auburn uses, the Tigers are a power team that attacks between the tackles with Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason.
2) Auburn LT Greg Robinson vs. Florida State DE Mario Edwards.
''Robinson has been awesome,'' Brown said. The 320-pound earth-mover mashed Missouri's quick but small defensive ends in the Southeastern Conference title game. Edwards is a more stout 277 pounds and better at the point of attack. On the other side, Florida State uses Eddie Goldman (303 pounds) and Demonte McAllister (290).
3) Auburn FB Jay Prosch vs. Florida State's ends and linebackers.
Prosch is a masher, 258 pounds with Hulk Hogan biceps. Brown said that unlike many teams that run the read option, Malzahn will use Prosch to wipe out the end or linebacker assigned to QB Nick Marshall on the read option. The Seminoles ends are bulky, but Prosch is almost 20 pounds bigger than all but one linebacker listed on FSU's two-deep.
4) Florida State QB Jameis Winston vs. patience.
Do not blitz Winston. You might get a few sacks - Florida State has allowed 29 - but he does huge damage. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Winston has completed 71 percent of his passes against blitzes and thrown 20 touchdowns against three interceptions. Brown said Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson needs to drop his linebackers and safeties and hope Winston's aggressiveness and remarkable arm work against him. ''The only time he's really struggled is when he got a little impatient and forced some throws,'' Brown said.
5) Florida State's offensive line vs. Auburn's defensive line.
Sounds over simplified - aren't all games won at the line? - but for Auburn this is vital. The best part of the Tigers defense by far is its deep and talented line, highlighted by DE Dee Ford and DTs Nosa Eguae and Gabe Wright. The Tigers can't afford to commit safeties to stop the run, because they need them to take away Florida State's trio of talented receivers (Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene). FSU's offensive line is very good, but not particularly deep. Auburn's line must control the running game and pressure Winston without extra help. ''If Florida State's running backs are getting to the second level, then game over for Auburn,'' Brown said.
6) Florida State TE Nick O'Leary vs. Auburn's safeties and linebackers.
O'Leary (6-3, 248) is not a Gronk-style matchup problem, but Auburn's defensive back are very small. LBs Cassanova McKinzy, Jake Holland and Kris Frost are going to find themselves in coverage with him at some point.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP