The representative from the powerful SEC, Auburn is a hot team that found a way to win close games from the beginning to the end of the 2013 season.
Coming from the under-achieving ACC, Florida State has blown out opponent after opponent this season on the way to a perfect 13-0 season.
Now the two teams meet for all the marbles in the historic Rose Bowl.
Facing a defense that is allowing just 10.7 points per game this season, Auburn's potent offense will have its hands full moving the football against the Seminoles. Conversely on the defensive side of the ball the Tigers will face a major challenge from Jameis Winston and company. Knowing the challenge in front of his defense, Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn said the key is to try to keep the redshirt freshman off balance as much as possible.
"Well, you've got to mix things up," Malzahn said. "You've got to disguise some things. You've got to mix things up. That's the biggest challenge. And you've got to take away something, too. You've got to take away something and hope you keep them off balance enough to help."
While Winston has been the quarterback talked about most in this matchup, the performance of Auburn's Nick Marshall may tell the story come Monday night. Leading the powerful ground attack for the Tigers, but also very capable of making plays in the passing game, Malzahn said the job Marshall has done this season for Auburn's has been impressive.
"Yeah, he's a tough guy," Malzahn said. "We knew he was very athletic. We didn't know exactly how tough of an inside runner that he was. Obviously the read zone, he's like a magician sometimes with that, but he has been a joy to coach. I know Rhett (Lashlee) has coached him extremely hard, been very demanding, and he's responded well every time."
With much of the talk for this game centered on Florida State's ability to stop Auburn's running game with a month to prepare, Malzahn said in the end it's still going to come down to execution for both teams. After 13 games a team isn't going to change what it does and because of that the Tigers will still try to run the football early and often.
"You know, I think there's a little bit of a balance, but any time you get to a championship game, you've got strengths," Malzahn said. "Both teams will play to their strengths, there's no doubt. But at the same time, 30 days off, we expect to have a few wrinkles, they expect to have a few wrinkles, and there's a little bit of feeling out time. But at the end of the day, both teams will do what they do strength wise."
No matter what happens come Monday night the good news for the Tigers is that this is just the beginning of the journey with Malzahn. Reiterating how happy he is to be at Auburn, the offensive innovator has turned the program around in just 12 months. Even though they're just a win away from the national championship he said it's only the first step for what he believes can be something special.
"I just think you can tell our program is going the right direction," Malzahn said. "I feel very good. I think our best years are ahead. I know we've had a great year, and we've found ways to get here, but I think we've got a chance to sustain this thing. We have the right coaches, and our players, we're a young team. 2010 it was completely different, so we got – we're laying the groundwork. Early in the year I said we're a work in progress, and our guys found a way to get us here. But I think our best years are ahead."