By Brad Carroll
Thirty-four bowl games have been played since mid-December. A lot of them have been exciting, some have been shocking, some even were duds. But all of the bowl games that came before Monday night won't come anywhere near the battle on the field between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn in the BCS national championship game.
The two best teams in college football will play for the ultimate crown, and there is no reason to believe it won't be an epic conclusion to this tremendous season.
Top-ranked Florida State and second-ranked Auburn got to this point taking completely different routes. The Seminoles were one of a handful of teams in the preseason given a chance to play in this game. The Tigers weren't even ranked at the beginning of the year and nobody gave them a shot to be here. Certainly nobody thought the SEC's streak of BCS dominance would be left in their hands.
The Seminoles have rolled through their 13 games this year, beating four ranked teams and two in the top 10. They won those four games by an average score of 50-8. The closest game Florida State played was to Boston College, a 14-point victory. The Seminoles beat Clemson, who played in a BCS game, 51-14 on the road. They also beat Duke 45-7 in the ACC championship game.
Florida State isn't just the No. 1 team in the nation, it's also the top-ranked team in scoring offense, at 53 points per game, and tops in scoring defense, allowing just 10.7 points per game. And, oh yeah, FSU has the Heisman trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston, too. The Seminoles have been the best team in the nation this season, no doubt about it.
But the best team through this point in the season doesn't always win the national championship, especially when there is a team that has destiny written all over them standing in their way. Auburn is that potential team of destiny.
The Tigers' rise to national championship contenders truly came out of nowhere. Auburn lost to LSU early in the season, but went on a run of nine straight victories, including two straight improbable wins over Georgia and Alabama to make this game. The Tigers beat five ranked teams in their run, including three in the final three weeks of the season. Auburn earned its spot opposite Florida State.
The Tigers needed a pair of near-miracles, however. Against Georgia, Auburn completed a desperation 73-yard touchdown pass to win in the final seconds. Against Alabama, Auburn had a 100-yard touchdown return off a missed field goal on the final play of the game to win. The Tigers finished off their unlikely run with a 59-42 win over Missouri in the SEC championship game.
Auburn scores 40.2 points per game and averages 505.3 yards per game on offense. The Tigers average 335.7 rushing yards per game, tops in the nation. Auburn can score with anybody, but defense could be what decides this game, as the Tigers allow 423.5 yards per game, 88th in the nation. In Auburn's last three games, Georgia scored 38, Alabama 28 and Missouri 42.
Florida State should be able to move the ball on the Tigers, but the Seminoles will have history against it. The SEC has won all seven BCS national championship games and can make it a perfect 8-for-8 with Auburn this year before a playoff system is introduced next season. Plus, in the last 10 years, there have been three matchups in the title game with undefeated teams playing one-loss teams. Each time, the one-loss team won by at least 20 points.
There is no way Auburn will win this game in a blowout, however, as Florida State is just too good to be outclassed on the field. The same can be written about Auburn, as the Tigers won't be blown out by three touchdowns, either.
Florida State-Auburn has all the makings of a great national championship game and should send the much-maligned BCS system out on a high note. Here is our three college football experts' picks on the BCS national championship game.
No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn
Monday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
The Spread: Auburn +7.5; Florida State -7.5
Brad's Breakdown: There is no doubt Florida State has been the best team in the nation this season. From start to finish, the Seminoles have answered every single challenge put in front of them, in impressive fashion. Auburn got on the perfect roll at the perfect time, getting a miracle finish against Georgia, then beating Alabama in another shocker before finally beating up on a very good Missouri team in the conference championship. The main difference between the two teams' seasons is the competition level, besides the obvious of Florida State being undefeated and Auburn having one loss. The best team the Seminoles played all year was Clemson, a team they routed on the road. Auburn beat three teams that were ranked in the top 7 when they played, Texas A&M, Alabama and Missouri. Even those that hate the SEC and want its run of dominance in the last seven national championship games to end have to admit the conference is tough to navigate. But with Alabama's big loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, the rest of the country might finally be catching up to the SEC. Florida State should be able to score a bunch of points against Auburn's defense. The Tigers will have their hands full with the Seminoles defense, which is tops in fewest points allowed. If Auburn has trouble getting the run game going against Florida State's defense, it won't stand a chance. Florida State won't shut it down completely, however, making for a close game throughout. It won't be as high-scoring as many believe, the over/under of 68 is a tad high, but it could come down to another epic finish. This time the magic won't come from Auburn, as Florida State will win the BCS national championship, with the Tigers covering.
Florida State 34, Auburn 31
Craig's Breakdown: Florida State has been the best team in the nation by far. Auburn has been a team of improbable wins. That streak ends now, though.
Florida State 38, Auburn 28
Glenn's Breakdown: This has been one monumental bowl season for me. Breaking records is what I do. I plan to keep it going with the title game. Florida State has gone coast-to-coast in rather easy form, demolishing everyone in its way, while Auburn has been shock city with some amazing finishes to reach this game. Call it luck, call it whatever you want, but bottom line is there is something special about this Auburn team coming from the bottom of the barrel to playing in the BCS championship. I don't believe Auburn will be steamrolled in this one. I believe it will come down to the last play of the game, so 7.5 points is way too much to give in a BCS title game unless, of course, a team doesn't belong there. With that written, I believe Winston and FSU carry on to the title but by a margin of six points.
Florida State 33, Auburn 27
Brad's Bowl Record: 16-19 (spread); 19-16 (straight-up); 3-5 (upset picks)
Brad's Season: 106-100-2 (spread); 150-58 (straight-up); 10-17 (upset picks)
Craig's Bowl Record: 16-19 (spread); 18-17 (straight-up); 3-6 (upset picks)
Craig's Season: 100-106-2 (spread); 149-59 (straight-up); 10-19 (upset picks)
Glenn's Bowl Record: 25-10 (spread); 23-12 (straight-up); 5-3 (upset picks)
Glenn's Season: 109-97-2 (spread); 149-59 (straight-up); 15-24 (upset picks)