Underdog Auburn looks to extend SEC streak

Underdog Auburn looks to extend SEC streak

January 6th, 2014 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

2014 Bowl Championship Series logo

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

There has been no shortage of upsets during college football's bowl season, and the Auburn Tigers are hoping there is one more in store.

Michigan State, Central Florida, Oklahoma and Clemson were underdogs going into the Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls, but each came away victorious. No. 2 Auburn is a nine-point underdog in tonight's Bowl Championship Series title game against the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles, who won every regular-season game by at least 14 points.

"They are very fast and very talented, and I know we are going to have to bring our best to the table," Auburn receiver Sammie Coates said at one of the news conferences staged over the weekend in Pasadena, Calif. "I know how they compete, and we've got to compete at their level."

Auburn has competed at a high level offensively all season and enters tonight's showdown leading the nation with 335.7 rushing yards a game. The Tigers (12-1) rushed for 1,164 yards in their last three games against Georgia, Alabama and Missouri, shredding Missouri for 545 rushing yards in a 59-42 triumph in the SEC championship on Dec. 7.

The Seminoles (13-0) allow just 116.5 rushing yards a game and 268.5 total yards per contest, so the proverbial "something has to give" will apply tonight when Auburn has the ball.

"Our biggest concern is just getting lined up," Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith said. "It has nothing to do with them. If we get lined up and we execute, there is no way we can lose."

Should Florida State prevail, it would snap the Southeastern Conference's unprecedented streak of seven consecutive national titles. It also would halt the four-year run of the Iron Bowl winner between Alabama and Auburn going on to become the BCS champ.

Florida began the SEC's current title parade in 2006, with the Gators winning it again in '08. LSU won it all in 2007 and Auburn in 2010, with Alabama claiming titles in 2009, '11 and last season.

"I don't look at it that way, I really don't," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said when asked about the SEC's dominance during Sunday's final news conference before tonight's 8:30 Eastern kickoff on ESPN. "I just try to control what we can control, and I want to do this for our kids and our fans. It doesn't matter who we're playing."

The Seminoles have remained a solid favorite based on the matchup of their offense, which is quarterbacked by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, against Auburn's defense, that has allowed 35 or more points four times. The Seminoles have scored at least 40 points in every game with the exception of their 37-7 thrashing of rival Florida. Their most imposing performance came in a 51-14 rout at Clemson, which was ranked No. 3 at the time.

Winston leads the nation in efficiency as a redshirt freshman, having thrown for 3,820 yards with 38 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

"You've got to keep them off balance, and that's a huge challenge," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "They've been machinelike on offense. They run it well. They throw it well. They've got NFL wide receivers who put people in one-on-one situations."

Said Winston: "I know that the offense we have is going to be prepared, and I know that if we play like we can play that we're going to be hard to beat."

The SEC has not only been successful with national championships in recent years but in bowl games as well. Since the league's title surge began in '06, the SEC is 49-23 in bowl games, which includes a 7-2 record this postseason.

Auburn has been labeled a "team of destiny" after unforgettable finishes against Georgia and Alabama, but the Tigers do not consider themselves lucky. Nor do they consider themselves inferior tonight against the Seminoles, even if it's Winston's birthday.

"I have a birthday wish for him -- that he's not going to do much celebrating," Auburn defensive end Dee Ford said.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6524.