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Auburn is good, but Alabama was better: SEC Recap

So the Southeastern Conference’s streak of BCS title game appearances remained intact.

Unfortunately for the SEC, its streak of national championships will be coming to an end because the wrong team is repping college football’s best conference in the big game.

Auburn and Florida State are a stylistic mismatch. By their own admission, the Tigers run roughly three plays, all runs, and do so well.

That’s why their 355.7 yards rushing per game leads the nation.

But the Tigers’ defense? This is the first of two problem areas for Auburn.

Auburn is 12-1 because it simply has outscored the most prolific offenses it has faced. It has won primarily because those teams also check in as meek on the defensive side of the ball.

Washington State, led by Mike Leach’s high-powered offensive attack, rated 92nd nationally on defense. Texas A&M’s defense comes in at 82nd while Georgia – a team Auburn defeated in the most improbable of ways via a Hail Mary – checks in at 82nd on defense.

Only Missouri, a team boasting a relatively easy schedule by SEC standards, cracked the Top 30 defensively among the teams boasting prolific offenses. Missouri is somewhat tainted though in that its 11-2 record now includes losses against the only two teams it faced with 10-plus wins (they were stunned at home by South Carolina 26-21 despite the fact the Gamecocks had to turn to an injuredConnor Shaw, who was expected to be out another two weeks).

There is the win against Alabama. That looks golden, of course, but then again it is somewhat foolhardy to draw concrete conclusions from passionate rivalry games. Especially when the game is won in historically flukey fashion.

What we’re seeing out of Auburn is a freakish anomaly. Teams that rush for more than 335 yards per game very necessarily dominate the clock. How in the world can an opponent put up 42 points when Auburn is scoring 59? Auburn ran for 379 yards and passed for 236 against Texas A&M, but had to come from behind to win, 45-41.

For its part, the Aggies rolled up 602 total yards of offense in that game. That, by the way, is the same Texas A&M squad that managed just 379 total yards against Missouri.

Florida State, of course, can be considered a far more talented and prolific version of Texas A&M. We witnessed that on Saturday night when the Seminoles came out sluggish against a good Duke team in the ACC championship, was held scoreless in the first quarter for the first time this season, then when on to a 45-7 romp.

The Seminoles have made a point of not just beating, but annihilating the best teams on its schedule. They not only did it with that potent offense, but with their suffocating defense.

Just take a look at the four ranked opponents Florida State played this season. Against Maryland (ranked 25th at the time), Clemson (No. 3), Miami (No. 7) and Duke (No. 20), Florida State allowed a combined total of 35 points.

The average score of those four games 50-9.

Auburn has played six ranked opponents, lost to one (35-21 against then No. 6 LSU) and outscored those opponents by an aggregate 222-206. That shows a knack for winning (most, not all) close games, but little more.

We all know running teams are in serious trouble if they get down big in a game. At some point during the BCS title game, Auburn is going to be down by 14-17 points. That’s because of the second problem area for Auburn:

Running teams are inherently easy to prepare for in a bowl setting.

Florida State ranks first nationally in giving up a mere 10.7 points per game. Percolate on that and the fact FSU actually permitted FEWER points (8.75) against the four ranked opponents it faced. The one team on FSU’s schedule that most profiles like Auburn is Boston College and it sets us up for what might be the exact scenario we see in the title game.

Boston College came out and punched the Seminoles in the mouth. Behind an offense that ranks 20th nationally in running the ball, the Eagles raced out to a 17-3 lead on FSU one minute into the second quarter.

Florida State’s next five possessions: Touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. But the time the Seminoles finished that spree, they lead 38-20 en route to a 48-34 romp.

The team that best profiles Auburn in a big bowl setting is last year’s Kansas State. The one-loss Wildcats were a run-first, run-second team. While its ground style differs from Auburn’s, it is similar in that the Collin Klein-led squad used essentially just three plays run from a multitude of formations.

In the Fiesta Bowl, the Wildcats faced a team that profiles quite like this year’s Florida State. The Oregon Ducks came into that game with a passing offense that stole the headlines from a sneaky-good running game. While everyone ogles Jameis Winston and the Seminoles’ vertical passing game, they overlook the fact FSU averages more than 207 yards per game on the ground.

Oregon also boasted a very solid defense. Not one as strong as this year’s FSU squad, but one with plenty of playmakers, nonetheless. Oregon had three weeks to prep for Kansas State.

Final score: Oregon 35, Kansas State 17.

All of the above is a long way of saying this: Alabama was the better choice to face Florida State.

Look, maybe Alabama would have lost in overtime had that field goal attempt not been returned for the most unlikely victory of this season. Regardless, it is foolhardy to stake Auburn’s reputation to knocking off the two-time defending national champions on its own turf in a rivalry setting.

We also wouldn’t be having this discussion if one of a half-dozen Georgia defenders had gotten a hand on a prayer pass.

Alabama’s defense trails only Florida State in allowing just 11.7 points per game. It held a whopping nine of its 12 opponents to 10 or fewer points. Auburn accomplished the feat three times – against Arkansas State, Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic.

Alabama and Auburn played seven common opponents this season. Auburn went 6-1 while outscoring the group 210-158. Alabama went 7-0 by a combined score of 229-76 for an average score of 33-11.

But, hey, since Auburn won by returning a 57-yard field goal attempt 108 yards on the last play of a rivalry game on its own turf, they’re playing for all the marbles. I’m not saying Auburn is a bad team, because it isn’t.

It’s just not the best team to face Florida State. Rest in peace, BCS. I can’t wait for the playoffs.

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Ralph Garcia


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