PASADENA, Calif. -- It's game day in Pasadena and time to break down the big game one final time. Let me start by saying turnovers can change the outcome of any game but could be magnified in a showdown with two teams of equal talent. It's overused when talking about football, but the turnover battle is important and for this game I think it matters more for Auburn.
I also think special teams could play a huge factor in this game. This too is a repetitive theme when breaking down big games. I believe this could be cumbersome for FSU with regards to Auburn's return game. Both teams have great kickers, but the Tigers could expose a weak Seminoles punt game.
In breaking this game down, the one thing I take a look at is "key downs." For Auburn it is first down on offense where it averages 7.31 yards per play. The Tigers have scored 23 of their 49 touchdowns on first down. The situation pressures a defense when they speed up-tempo after they convert a first down catching the defense off guard.
The Tigers want to "stay on schedule" with their run game and avoid second-and-long situations. They rushed for 2,445 yards on first down alone this season which was more than 81 teams had totaled. FSU has held teams to 3.24 yards per carry on first down and only three runs of 20-plus yards.
Stat: Auburn had 22 runs of 20-plus yards or more this season on first down.
Florida State finished third in the nation with a 55 percent conversion rate on third down. I think this will be the "key down" for Auburn's defense. The Tigers will be in several key moments in the game where a third-down stop gets them closer to a fourth-quarter game.
Auburn had the best defense in the SEC on third down during the final quarter. If it can get the game to that point with the decision in doubt, the Tigers have a shot. The Tigers were strong against five ranked opponents, holding them just 34 percent conversions. Jameis Winston is at his best on third down, leading the country in passer rating on third-and-10 or more. On third down he's completing 68 percent and has 43 first-down completions.
Stat: In six games this season FSU converted 60 percent or more on third down.
Breaking it down
Key Matchup - Gus Malzahn vs. Jeremy Pruitt
Malzahn has been a play caller for 93 games in college and his record is just 6-17 when his team scores fewer than 24 points. Pruitt has been on staff at Alabama and in 2010 and 2011 Auburn held his offense to less than three yards per carry. Auburn did win the big game in 2010.
FSU - Kelvin Benjamin has dominated opponents the last three games using his incredible size to win one-on-one matchups. He is averaging almost 20 yards per catch on third down.
FSU - Lamarcus Joyner is a guy who affects the game just like he did at Clemson. His three forced turnovers led to 17 points against the Tigers.
Auburn - Nick Marshall is the key to the game because I believe the Noles will load up on Tre Mason and force Marshall to throw. Marshall can throw and will use play action to his advantage.
Auburn - Dee Ford can be the difference in the pass rush against Winston. He had two sacks and two tackles for loss in a huge win over Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel.
This and that
- Big Ten officials will work the game tonight. This season the Big Ten on average was the least penalized among BCS conferences.
- Auburn is 5-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer and 6-0 in games decided by eight points or fewer.
- Florida State has been favored in all 14 games this season and covered the spread in 11 of the first 13.
- The last two bowl games where Auburn has been an underdog it won both games outright.
- Jameis Winston has thrown at least three touchdowns in eight games this season.
- Auburn is 5-3-1 all time in top-five matchups and it has won five in a row dating back to 1983.