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What are the top one-on-one matchups to watch in the BCS national title game?
The game of football is won and lost with a complete team effort. Are quarterbacks more important than backup guards? Of course. But the outcome is celebrated and opined by an entire roster of players big and small.
That doesn't mean that games within the game don't take place each and every time the ball is kicked off. This year's BCS National Championship showdown between Auburn and Florida State is no exception, as two excellent coaches lead two quality rosters into battle in Pasadena for the final crystal football of the BCS era.
Can Florida State stop the Auburn running game? Can Auburn cover Florida State's receivers? How will Jameis Winston handle a month of Heisman pressure? These are all important big picture questions that will be answered on Jan. 6.
But a narrow look at individual player matchups might be able to help predict what may happen in the Rose Bowl. The unit that wins the most individual matchups will likely be the squad to win the BCS' final national championship game.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR vs. Chris Davis, CB
Benjamin is a monster matchup nightmare for pretty much every defensive back in the nation. His 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame is impossible to stop — even for the most famous defensive back in Auburn history. Davis, who ran the Kick Six back to beat Alabama, may be the one charged with stopping Benjamin. He led the Seminoles with 14 touchdown catches and 19.1 yards per catch. And if it's not Benjamin that is the matchup problem for Davis and the Tigers' secondary, it will be Rashad Greene and his team-high 67 receptions and 981 yards who will be tough to stop.
Cam Erving, OT vs. Dee Ford, DE
Florida State was 87th nationally in sacks allowed at 29.0 while Auburn finished third in the SEC in getting after the quarterback with 28.0 takedowns. Both Erving and Ford have high NFL potential and they could be matched up on a number of occasions in the national title game. If the Seminoles can protect Jameis Winston, the odds Auburn's 103rd-rated pass defense will get smoked by the FSU passing attack is pretty high. If Ford and company can get after the QB, the Tigers may have a significant advantage.
Tre Mason, RB vs. Telvin Smith, LB
Christian Jones came into the season with all of the hype and preseason pomp for Florida State but Smith has been the star of the show. The weakside tackler is asked to flow sideline to sideline to make plays and he will be faced with his tallest order of the season thus far. Smith led the team in tackles with 75 stops but tackling Mason is easier said than done. The Auburn workhorse led the SEC in carries (283), yards (1,621) and touchdowns (22). If Mason hits his season average of 5.7 yards per carry, Auburn will be tough to beat.
Reese Dismukes, C vs. Timmy Jernigan, DT
A junior, Dismukes is the longtime starter at center for Auburn. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Alabama native is charged with stopping as nasty a duo at defensive tackle as there is in the nation. Jernigan is a future NFL star and is the team's No. 4 tackler and is second on the team in sacks (4.5). Dismukes is charged with keeping the middle of the line clean, so handling Jernigan and his counterparts Nile Lawrence-Stample and Jacobbi McDaniel will be critical for Auburn's success.
Nick Marshall, QB vs. Jalen Ramsey, S
Everyone on the Noles defense has to be concerned with Marshall's dual-threat ability. But the guy Auburn may target could be FSU's true freshman safety. The five-star prospect from Nashville, Ramsey stepped right in and started every game for the No. 1 team in the nation. But reading run-pass against Gus Malzahn is downright impossible, so if Ramsey is out of place at all, Marshall will capitalize.
Jameis Winston, QB vs. Ryan Smith, S
Winston is virtually impossible to stop — the bronze Heisman Trophy on his mantle is proof enough of that. So the challenge is even greater for a defensive backfield that has been abused at times this season. Smith and fellow safety Jermaine Whitehead will be in charge of reading the play and aligning the secondary against what is arguably the best passing attack in the nation. If either safety is out of place by even just a few steps, Winston will make them pay with deadly accuracy.
Devonta Freeman and James Widler, LB vs. Cassanova McKinzy, LB
Freeman and Wilder form a tremendous speed-power combination that few teams in the nation can boast. Freeman is explosive and dangerous in space with the ability to score from anywhere on the field. Wilder is a beast between the tackles. This means star sophomore tackler McKinzy will have to be disciplined and tough all game long. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker will be a focus of the Seminoles' front line for much of the game.
Greg Robinson, OT vs. Mario Edwards, DE
Whoever lines up against Robinson will have his hands full and that could be Edwards, the former No. 1 recruit in the nation. Robinson has elite athletic ability and will work to the second level and out in space with amazing ease. So the goal for FSU's ends isn't necessarily to get pressure on quarterback Nick Marshall but rather to occupy Greg Robinson and other blockers. If the Noles can create space for their athletic back seven to move in space and make tackles, Jeremy Pruitt's bunch could have a significant edge most teams don't get against Auburn.