The Main Event
BCS National Championship, Florida State vs. Auburn
Kickoff 7:30 p.m. CT Monday on ESPN
The skinny: This is it, the end of the Bowl Championship Series. Next year, the four-team playoff begins. For all its faults, the BCS almost always managed to get it right and pair the top two teams in the nation in the championship, including two very deserving teams this year.
Florida State comes into the postseason as probably the most well-rounded team in the nation, No. 1 in scoring offense (53.0) and No. 1 in scoring defense (10.7 ppg). Scoring offense and defense is a much better indicator of success than total offense and defense where Florida State ranks No. 5 and No. 3 respectively, because in the end, all that matters is what's on the scoreboard. With Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston leading the offense, who is No. 1 in the nation in quarterback rating (190.1), the Seminoles will put points up on the scoreboard no matter how well Auburn's defense performs.
Auburn went from 3-9 a year ago to the national championship largely because of the hiring of Gus Malzahn, who brought with him one of the fastest run-based read-option offenses in the nation. The offense works because of two great runners. Nick Marshall conducts the show and is one of the best running quarterbacks in the nation, averaging 6.6 yards per carry on his way to 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. Running back Tre Mason, a Heisman Trophy finalist, carries the load as he had 1,621 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns. Auburn's weakness is its pass defense, which ranks 13th of 14 teams in the SEC, giving up 259.3 yards per game.
Florida State pro prospect: Senior safety Terrence Brooks––The former cornerback has made a nice transition to safety. His statistics aren't overwhelming, but you have to wonder whether a dominating team defense prevents any one player from putting up outstanding individual numbers. It was a nice development to see Brooks make seven tackles for a loss in 2013. He's had no more than two interceptions in any one season, however. Brooks is a potential Day 2 draft choice.
Auburn pro prospect: Sophomore tackle Greg Robinson––Coming into the season, Robinson was probably on the back burner of most NFL scouts' minds, because he's just a redshirt sophomore. But after absolutely dominating SEC competition, all of a sudden, Robinson has to be seriously considered to declare for the NFL draft. He's young and still raw, but he's the type of franchise left tackle that could be the cornerstone of an offensive line for 15 years and go in the upper half of the first round.
Prediction: The Auburn offense is good enough to score on even the No. 1 defense in the nation, but the Auburn defense won't be able to stop Florida State with any consistency. Winston will spread the ball around to one of the best receiving corps in the nation that includes Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and tight end Nick O'Leary. 40-28, War Chant.
Birmingham Bowl, Vanderbilt vs. Houston
Kickoff at 12:00 p.m. CT Saturday on ESPN
The skinny: You might remember James Franklin as the Green Bay Packers wide receiver coach for one season back in 2005. He's gone on to much success in the college ranks, now as Vanderbilt's head coach, leading the university to its third straight bowl game for the first time in school history, and now he's a candidate for Texas and NFL gigs. Going 8-4 in the SEC the past two seasons is no small achievement. They'll face a Houston team that has to be pleased with an 8-4 record after making the move to the American Athletic Conference.
Vanderbilt pro prospect: Senior wide receiver Jordan Matthews––Matthews finished his career as the SEC's all-time leader in receptions (257), receiving yards (3,616) and 100-yard receiving games (18). He became the first SEC player ever to have more than 100 receptions in a season (107) as a senior. He has terrific size (6-3) and could go as high as the first round if he can show he has 4.4 speed at the NFL Combine or his pro day.
Houston pro prospect: Senior tackle DeAnthony Sims––Sims is not a highly-rated prospect, an undrafted type at best. But he's one of those college left tackles that projects to guard at the next level. At 6-3 and 320 lbs., Sims has the girth to play on the interior, but his athleticism was good enough for him to earn second-team All-AAC honors in 2013.
Prediction: The SEC will exert its superiority over a mid-level AAC team. 31-21, Dores.
Mobile Bowl, Arkansas State vs. Ball State
Kickoff at 8:00 p.m. CT Sunday on ESPN
The skinny: Arkansas State won a share of the Sun Belt conference title, but lost its head coach to a bigger program for the third consecutive season. Bryan Harsin is leaving for Boise State, following in the footsteps of Gus Malzahn to Auburn and Hugh Freeze to Ole Miss ahead of him. They take on a Ball State team that impressively won double-digit games in the MAC.
Ball State pro prospect: Senior quarterback Keith Wenning––Every year the MAC seems to produce a legitimate NFL quarterback, and this year it's Wenning. No, he's not the next Ben Roethlisberger. Wenning is a late-round prospect at best. But he has the tools and size (6-2, 220) to make it in the NFL and his participation in the upcoming East-West Shrine game will be very important to his draft stock.
Arkansas State pro prospect: Senior defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers––Big, short and quick. Carrethers is just 6-1 but weighs 330 lbs. For his size, he makes an impressive amount of tackles, an average of 7.25 per game. He's a potential mid-round draft pick after being named first-team All-Sun Belt in 2013.
Prediction: Wenning will use the bowl game as an audition in front of NFL scouts, getting the ball to wide receiver Willie Snead as much as possible on the way to a 33-28 victory.
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book "It's Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America," and editor of Cheesehead TV's "Pro Football Draft Preview." To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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