It's the final installment of our BCS Championship Game Q-and-A previews with Tomahawk Nation. Thanks again to DKfromVA for asking some great questions and providing insightful answers. Auburn vs. Florida State should be a good one. For our answer's to DK's questions, click here.
College and Magnolia: Florida State hasn't played in a really close game this year, so we don't really know how the Seminoles will react if the BCS Championship Game tightens up. Do you have any reason to doubt your team in that scenario, particularly quarterback Jameis Winson, a redshirt freshman?
DKfromVA: I think it has to be somewhat of a concern because it is such an unknown. When this point is raised, many FSU fans tout Jameis's stats when trailing, but I don't think those are really meaningful because the sample is so small. We don't know how this team will react if playing in a close national title game late. It's certainly possible that FSU might not handle such a situation very well, but I'm not particularly worried about it. I don't think of Jameis as a freshman anymore. He had his redshirt year and now has played an entire season, won in prime time at Clemson and against Miami, etc. This team has been phenomenally focused all season and I expect that to continue on Monday. Jameis in particular is a very loose individual, approach-wise. I don't have any reason to doubt Florida State in such a situation, but anyone claiming to know exactly how they'll react is reaching. It's something to keep an eye on if the situation arises, but obviously not as important as the matchups on the field.
BCS title game Q-and-A's
BCS title game Q-and-A's
CaM: Which team has the coaching advantage, and how big of a role will that advantage, as opposed to straight-up talent, play in the final outcome?
DK: I think these coaching staffs have a lot of interesting similarities. Obviously there's Craig, who returned home to Auburn last year. Both have defensive regimes in their first season, and FSU was outbid by Auburn for Ellis Johnson. Both have offensive-minded head coaches who have coached as coordinators in national championship games. It's odd to think of Fisher as an experienced head coach, but he is the longer tenured of the two. I have a lot of respect for Malzahn and expect great success for him as a coach. I'm excited to see what he and Jeremy Pruitt have schemed for one another in this particular installment of Malzahn offense vs. Saban school of defense after a month of preparation. I believe that Gus will have to have a fantastic coaching performance to keep pace with what I expect FSU to do to Auburn's defense. Florida State is really good on defense. Better than Alabama. I think it's fair to say that Pruitt is not yet the coach that Saban is, but FSU has more talented players on defense and a month to prepare to defend an option-based offense, which they'll play at a neutral site rather than at Jordan-Hare. My point here is to say that I think Malzahn and Auburn will have to be even better against FSU than they were against Alabama. Both on offense and on defense, Florida State has more talent than Auburn does. So, Auburn will likely need to outcoach FSU on both sides of the ball to win the game if they are to overcome this talent gap, which isn't huge but certainly does exist. It's not impossible, and college football is all about which team is better on a given night, but I don't think it's overly likely, either.
CaM: Florida State is favored, and based on some quotes I've seen, the Seminoles don't think much of Auburn. Obviously, you want players to be confident going into a game, but are you worried at all that FSU might be a little overconfident?
DK: I'm not sure that the FSU players are overconfident. I'm assuming you're referring to the comments from Telvin Smith about a lot of Auburn's success being due to lack of execution by opponents. I think those sentiments stem from the sense of confidence these guys have that comes with being one of the two or three best defensive units in the nation, if not the best. They've shut down everyone after changing positions following Boston College and learning their system. Now, I do think that this AU offense will be the best group they've seen all year, even though F/+ would disagree with me. It's also different than any other they've defended, as Clemson does much more through the air and Malzahn is a better scheme guy than Morris. But, the ‘Noles have also had a month to prepare to defend these Tigers. So, I get why the guys are confident, although I can see why it may appear as though their confidence is too much from a comment like that.
Another thing -- I don't know that I've ever seen as much disparity in predicted outcome of a game between our corner of the internet (SBN sites, Twitter, etc.) and the general populace. Here, the sites are saturated with FSU fans and believers in F/+ and other metrics, which predict a Florida State victory. Many casual fans and people on other sites believe that the SEC's AU will beat Florida State. It's a really interesting dynamic that has played out over the last month. I know Auburn fans here get frustrated with ‘Noles fans running wild posting about how FSU will destroy the Tigers, but I think it's been the perfect storm of events that have caused that to happen. First, the FSU fanbase on SBN is enormous. Second, the advanced metrics we love and use frequently tell us that Florida State will win. Finally, so many FSU fans have heard from casual fans, neighbors, coworkers, etc. that Auburn will win based on no objective information. The result is what we've seen with Florida State fans being very vocal with their predictions around SBN and Twitter. I get the frustration, but I just wanted to try to explain.
CaM: "If Florida State wins, it will be because _______." Fill in that blank.
DK: If Florida State wins, it will be because the ‘Noles as a whole continued to play the way that they have all season. I know that sounds basic, but it really is a three-fold answer. First, the Florida State offense must continue to move the ball effectively. This group has been the best in the nation this season and will need to continue to play at a high level against Auburn, a talented defense that can make life difficult when it puts its opposition in obvious passing situations. The Seminoles cannot afford to turn the ball over frequently and give the high-octane Auburn offense more possessions. Which brings me to the defense, now the #2 group in the country. Auburn is going to move the football. Gus will have plenty of ways to attack the Seminoles prepared, but hopefully Jeremy Pruitt will have some things up his sleeve as well. The "eye-discipline" motto for this defense needs to be prominently displayed in this game. Florida State has got to get lined up against Auburn and maintain its gap discipline. This is much easier said than done against Malzahn's attack, but Florida State has the athletes to do it. I expect FSU to be very aggressive against the Tigers on defense and challenge them with heavy looks in the box and man coverage on the outside and over the top. If the Seminoles perform as well or better than Alabama did on defense against the Tigers, I expect them to win. Finally, and not to be overlooked, Florida State must not blow the game on special teams. FSU's special teams are probably a bit underrated by F/+, as they suffer from some early season punting woes. Punter Cason Beatty has improved as the season has gone on, but still isn't an elite punter by any means. The FSU coverage teams have to be good in kicking situations and not allow short fields and easy points for the Tigers. Groza winner Roberto Aguayo is an important piece of the puzzle here. He's an excellent kicker and will need to give FSU points on the occasions it fails to reach the endzone. Special teams will take a back seat to the offense and defense matchups, but too often they've seemed to be critical in deciding close games, as national titles are expected to be.
CaM: And fill in this blank: "If Auburn wins, it will be because ________."
DK: If Auburn wins, it will be because Gus Malzahn's offense significantly outplayed Jimbo Fisher's. It will have to be significant because FSU's defense is much better than Auburn's. Malzahn will have to blow Jeremy Pruitt out of the water schematically, and the AU offense will have to keep improving as it has all season. So, both an excellent performance from Auburn will have to occur against the Florida State defense, and a poor performance from FSU's offense are requisite for an Auburn win. The FSU offense will have to play in a manner completely out of character with the rest of its season against Auburn. The ‘Noles have smoked several defenses ranked better than Auburn's by F/+, but none of them have had a month to prepare, and obviously the national title game thing raises the stakes a bit. As I mentioned, I think the FSU D will play very aggressively against Auburn. This is a high risk/reward strategy, as the ‘Noles could force three-and-outs to diminish the effects of Auburn's tempo, but also could give up big plays if they're out of their lanes up front with little safety help and/or if Nick Marshall can make plays over the top against trail coverage. For the Tigers to achieve this great offensive performance they'll need, these sorts of big plays will have to happen. I also think Auburn will need to run 80+ plays against FSU to wear the ‘Noles down and force the alignment issues up front in hurry-up situations. Even if the outputs for both offenses end up being lower than expected, a la Auburn's last championship game appearance, this matchup will still be outcome-determinative, in my opinion.
CaM: How confident are you in a Seminoles win, how do you think the game plays out and what's your final prediction?
DK: At an 8-point favorite (or thereabouts), I'd go with 70-75%. I know that sounds really high, but I think that the most important factors favor the Seminoles by that much. We can talk about things like battle-testedness, heart, destiny etc. (which to y'all's credit, you haven't) as much as we want, but the considerations that matter are the matchups on the field. I think that Florida State has been better on offense and on defense than Auburn has been this season. I don't have any indication that FSU won't continue this and produce better outputs on Monday night on both sides of the ball. I think that FSU and AU both have excellent coaching staffs, and it wouldn't appear that this factor will overcome the talent advantage that Florida State holds over the Tigers. I wonder about the effects of a month off from games, but I don't have any reason to think that this will favor one team over another. Ultimately I think that both teams will move the football and score points, but I do believe that FSU will be too much for Auburn on Monday based on what I've seen from both teams over the course of this season. Florida State gets its third national title at 37-25. That said, it's college football and this is a single-game setting. So, so many things can happen, and we've seen this to be true over this strange bowl season. I've thoroughly enjoyed working with C&M, I root for Auburn whenever they play teams that aren't FSU or Virginia, and I'm extremely excited to watch this football game. Cheers.