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.
The top-ranked Seminoles and No. 2 Tigers will meet at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6 in the final BCS title game.
Five things to know about the Seminoles and Tigers matchup:
HEISMAN WATCH: Florida State star Jameis Winston is a huge favorite to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday. He’d be just the second freshman to win the award, but the second straight to do it, joining Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. Winston 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 made a late push to be a finalist, too. Mason ran for 304 yards on 46 carries in Auburn’s SEC championship game win against Missouri and ranks ninth in the nation at 124.7 yards per game, and has scored 22 touchdowns.
COACHES: Two national coach of the year candidates in Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. 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 championship, with Heisman winner Cam Newton.
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 much like it has been in the Big 12 in recent years, defensive stats have gotten skewed by high-powered, up-tempo offenses. The Tigers have a quick defensive front led by DEs Dee Ford and Carl Lawson. The good news for Auburn is Florida State’s offense has never had to stop what the Tigers will run at it.
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. Florida State coach Jimbo 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 took that one 22-14. The Tigers lead the overall series 13-4-1, though Bowden was 4-5 against Auburn.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP