Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 5:00 PM
It’s the game you’ve been waiting weeks for…and it’s finally here. The undefeated and #1 ranked Florida State Seminoles are just one away from an unexpected run at history as one of the most dominant teams of the last few decades. Standing in their way are the once-beaten and #2 ranked Auburn Tigers…who were playing their best football of the season down the stretch.
Florida State is favored…but is far from a sure thing to remain unscathed because of issues we’ll be discussing as we run through our key indicator stats.
Won-Lost Records (strength of schedule)
Auburn: 12-1 (#20 schedule in USA Today)
Fla. State: 13-0 (#63 schedule in USA today)
Here’s the first problem for Florida State. They played a weak schedule by the standards of most major conference bowl teams. You can’t call them “untested,” because they went to Death Valley and crushed Clemson. But, it’s not hard to get sky high for a game like that when you play so few good teams! Could FSU have gone 13-0, or even 12-1 if they had played Auburn’s schedule? Heck, Auburn probably couldn’t even go 12-1 if they played their own schedule again! The key to remember from this category is that Auburn had to go head-to-head with Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Missouri (while also facing bowl teams Washington State, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss). Florida State played in a weaker conference…but, in their favor, victims Clemson and Duke more than held their own against Ohio State and Texas A&M last week. Handicappers must do their best to truly pin down what strength of schedule issues mean, if anything.
Auburn: 7.0 on offense, 6.0 on defense
Fla. State: 7.8 on offense, 4.8 on defense
Wow, plus 3.0 for Florida State! Do you know how hard that is to do in a major conference? Though the +3.0 to +1.0 advantage is already a big feather in FSU’s cap. We’re more impressed with the defensive advantage. Auburn’s defense struggled vs. quality this season, meaning they had to win shootouts against their best opponents. FSU didn’t play shootouts. They just shut people down. And, shutting down Clemson (14 points and 326 total yards) and Duke (7 points and 239 total yards) looks even more impressive now than it did at the time. Defense wins championships. Florida State has the better defense. The potential issue? FSU has no experience facing the kind of potent attack that could crack 7.0 YPP on offense against an SEC-heavy schedule.
Fla. State: +17
Florida State constantly forced opponents to play in desperation mode, which helped them earn a very large turnover advantage. It might be important that they got arrogant and sloppy in the ACC championship game against Duke, losing the category 3-2. They won’t have a margin of error for arrogance against Auburn! What’s more telling to us is that Auburn didn’t have an impressive margin. Their defense was too soft to force mistakes. The Tigers only had one takeaway in 8 of their 12 games. They must do better Monday Night or they have no chance.
Auburn: 11-2 ATS
Fla. State: 11-2 ATS
That’s hard to believe…but not actually uncommon for championship contenders. The teams who are furthest above expectations are often playing at a very high level. It’s one of the crazy wives tales of college football that you should bet against championship contenders because they’re likely to be underpriced. Florida State was obviously great from the get-go this season. And, there was no doubt about their championship pedigree after they walloped Clemson. Yet, oddsmakers still couldn’t get the lines in the right spot.
Current Line: Florida State by 9, total 67
Florida State is getting a lot of respect in that line. They’ve earned it! Their closest game all season was a 14-point win at Boston College. Their second closest win was almost TWICE that big. Seriously! Florida State beat all other opponents by 27 or more points. Auburn is clearly the best team they’ve faced based on Power Ratings…and Auburn brings a depth of skill position explosiveness that’s even more dynamic than what Clemson features. Auburn will have to make big play after big play while avoiding turnovers. They have pulled that off against tough competition. The Tigers must still find another level. And, frankly, Florida State may be playing on a level that fans and sports bettors just aren’t used to seeing. But, Florida State can’t just assume the trophy is going to fall into their laps. They are facing a battle-tested foe with plenty of weaponry.
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