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BCS title: Auburn poised for upset of Florida State

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis (11) returns missed field goal attempt 100-plus yards score game-winning touchdown as time expired fourth quarter

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis (11) returns a missed field goal attempt 100-plus yards to score the game-winning touchdown as time expired in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game against No. 1 Alabama in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Auburn won 34-28. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

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No. 1 florida STATE VS. NO. 2 auburn

The facts: 7:30 p.m. Monday in Pasadena, Calif., ESPN, 1000-AM
The records: Florida State 13-0, 8-0 ACC; Auburn 12-1, 7-1 SEC
The line: Florida State by 10 (Total: 67) Greenberg’s pick: Florida State, 37-36

Updated: January 6, 2014 12:48PM



NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — With a pair of sacks on quarterback Johnny Manziel in the final minute against Texas A&M in October, Dee Ford sealed the 45-41 victory that announced to the college football world that Auburn was a legitimate top-25 team.

One month later, Ford, a senior defensive end, drilled Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray on the last play of the game, causing an incompletion to preserve the Tigers’ 43-38 lead. That victory put college football’s most surprising team of 2013 in position to face Alabama for the SEC East title.

So perhaps you can understand why Ford — just to name one extremely loose, confident Auburn player — isn’t paying much mind to the chorus of doubters who believe top-ranked Florida State — which leads the nation in scoring (53.0 points per game) and scoring defense (10.7) — inevitably will win Monday night’s BCS title game.

The point spread has been climbing, matter of fact — indicative of a widely expected blowout.

But all the Tigers have done this season is find ways to win. Sometimes that has meant finding ways to pull off major upsets — of Texas A&M at the time, and certainly of then-No. 1 Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

When you’ve gone from 3-9 one season to the national title game the next, you don’t believe there’s anything you can’t accomplish.

That includes being the first defense to make FSU’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, look bad.

‘‘He’s [just] a quarterback,’’ Ford said. ‘‘I don’t know the logistics of it or anything, you know what I’m saying? Get past the offensive tackle.’’

Winston has thrown for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns, with just 10 interceptions, and leads the nation in pass efficiency. Auburn’s defense, meanwhile, is ranked 102nd against the pass. But Winston has taken a lot of sacks this season, as many young quarterbacks do.

Ford is as confident about this game as he was in the lobby of the team hotel earlier this week, when he played piano and sang for teammates until shortly before the players’ midnight curfew.

‘‘If we bring our A-game, man, we can definitely get to the quarterback,’’ he said.

It’s one of a number of things that could level the playing field against a Seminoles team that’s being portrayed by media here as a machine built to handle any type of game.

If Auburn’s No. 1-ranked rushing attack gets going early, the Seminoles will find themselves in serious danger. Quarterback Nick Marshall ended the season playing as well as any dual-threat guy out there. FSU hasn’t faced anyone quite like him, either.

‘‘You know, every game is different the way it unfolds,’’ Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. ‘‘We do feel good about our passing game, even though we have not passed the football a lot, probably the second half of the year, because we haven’t had to. But we do have a lot of confidence in Nick Marshall to throw it.’’

More than anything else, though, FSU has yet to find itself in a dogfight. That’s a huge advantage for the Tigers.

‘‘With the team we’ve got and the coaching staff that we’ve got, it looks easy,’’ Winston said. ‘‘But people don’t look behind closed doors at how much work we put into this. We prepared ourselves for situations like this.’’

But Auburn has lived through them on the field. Repeatedly. It’s why the Tigers’ chance to win can’t be discounted.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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