NCF Nation: Auburn Tigers

The 10 most memorable BCS moments

January, 13, 2014
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With the door closed on the 16-year reign of the BCS, we dove into the 72 BCS bowl games to find the 10 most memorable moments of the BCS era.

10. Utah’s hook-and-ladder: The first team ever dubbed a “BCS Buster” was the Urban Meyer-coached and Alex Smith-led Utah Utes in 2004. In the 2005 Fiesta Bowl, Utah led Pittsburgh 28-7 late in the third quarter and lined up at the Panthers’ 18-yard line. Smith swung it left to Steven Savoy, who lateraled to Paris Warren, who ran it in for the score as the Utes completed a 12-0 season.

9. Peerless Price down the sideline: Tennessee led Florida State 14-9 with 9:29 remaining in the fourth quarter in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl with the first BCS Championship on the line. UT quarterback Tee Martin found Price down the right sideline, and Price took it the distance for a 79-yard score. Price had 199 receiving yards for the winning Vols, the most ever in the BCS title game.

8. Ginn’s costly return: Ohio State received the opening kickoff from Florida in the 2007 BCS Championship game, and Ted Ginn Jr. wasted no time in getting the game’s first score on a 93-yard return. What will always be remembered, however, is that Ginn suffered a foot injury on the ensuing celebration and was out for the rest of the Buckeyes’ 41-14 loss.

7. Warrick's juggling score: Though the championship of the 1999 season was marked by Virginia Tech freshman QB Michael Vick, it was Florida State’s Peter Warrick who was named the most outstanding player. He had a punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter, and his juggling catch on a 43-yard score midway through the fourth served as the dagger.

6. Vince Young, Part I: Facing Michigan in the 2005 Rose Bowl, Young was responsible for all five Texas touchdowns in a 38-37 win. Though he had runs of 60, 23 and 20 yards, the most impressive was a 10-yard run in which Young escaped the tackle of Michigan lineman Pat Massey before scampering to the right pylon.

5. Dyer isn’t down: Tied at 19 with Oregon with just more than two minutes remaining in the 2011 BCS Championship Game, Auburn running back Michael Dyer appeared to be tackled for a short gain at the Auburn 45-yard line. Having rolled over the defender, Dyer was never ruled down, and ended up gaining 37 yards on the play before he was taken down at the Oregon 23-yard line. Auburn would win on a field goal as time expired.

[+] EnlargeBoise
Steve Grayson/WireImageIan Johnson's two-point conversion run in overtime propelled Boise State over heavily-favored Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.
4. Winston to Benjamin: Trailing Auburn 31-27 in the final BCS Championship Game, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston drove the Noles 78 yards in less than a minute to the Auburn 2-yard line. Receiving the snap with 17 seconds left in a wild fourth quarter, Winston threw a perfect pass to Kelvin Benjamin, who brought it down for the game-winning score to complete an undefeated season.

3. Was it pass interference? Some will remember Maurice Clarett’s game-saving strip of Sean Taylor, but the lasting legacy of the game is the dubious pass interference call in overtime. Miami led 24-17 and Ohio State faced fourth-and-3 from the 5-yard line. Glenn Sharpe was called for pass interference, giving the Buckeyes new life in a game they would win 31-24.

2. Boise State’s trick plays: In the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, Boise State trailed heavily favored Oklahoma 35-28 with 18 seconds left and facing fourth-and-18 from the 50-yard line. Jared Zabransky completed a pass to Drisan James just short of the first down, but he lateraled it to Jerard Rabb, who took it the rest of the way for the tying touchdown. In overtime, down 42-35 on fourth down, wide receiver Vinny Perretta completed a 3-yard pass to Derek Schouman for a touchdown. Chris Petersen elected to go for two, and Zabransky faked a throw to his right before handing it behind his back to Ian Johnson on the Statue of Liberty play for the winning two-point conversion. Johnson would propose to his girlfriend, a Boise State cheerleader, on the sideline after the game.

1. Vince Young, Part II: After a Longhorns touchdown and key fourth-down stop, undefeated Texas trailed undefeated USC 38-33 with 26 seconds remaining and faced fourth-and-5 from the 9-yard line, with the 2005 BCS championship on the line. Vince Young dropped back to pass but saw nobody open, and immediately sprinted for the right pylon for the title-winning score in the marquee game of the BCS era.

All six finalists have made Heisman case

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
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Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State fans have made their pick, but Jameis Winston is just one of six Heisman finalists.
Six Heisman Trophy finalists will head to New York for Saturday’s ceremony, the most that have received invites to the ceremony since 1994, when there were also six. The last time there were more was in 1988, with eight.

Although the favorite entering the ceremony is Florida State QB Jameis Winston, all six have made a solid case for why they are the best player in the country this season.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
Although Northern Illinois' bid to be a BCS buster was ended in the MAC championship game, Lynch’s dual-threat ability kept the Huskies in it all season. He had 321 rushing yards against Western Michigan, the most by a quarterback in FBS history, breaking his own record of 316 set earlier in the year against Central Michigan.

Lynch ended the season with 1,881 rushing yards, also an FBS record for a quarterback.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Manziel’s bid to join Archie Griffin as the only other multiple Heisman winner saw a transformation of his game. While his 2012 season was built more on his legs, his 2013 campaign saw him develop as a passer.

Manziel added a yard to his yards per attempt (from 8.5 in 2012 to 9.5 in 2013). His touchdown percentage also increased from 6.0 percent in 2012 to 8.4 percent this year. Also in 2013, 63 percent of his completions this season have gone for a first down or a touchdown, compared to 57.6 percent last year.

RB Tre Mason, Auburn
Even after a 1,000-yard rushing season last year, Mason wasn't on the short list of Heisman contenders until he finished the season with five straight 100-yard rushing games, including 304 against Missouri in the SEC championship game, the fifth-highest total all-time in an SEC game.

Mason’s 2,137 all-purpose yards this season broke the Auburn school record, previously held by Bo Jackson. Mason’s 22 rushing TDs this season also set a school record.

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama
This is McCarron’s third season as Alabama’s starting quarterback, and he’s improved every season. His opponent-adjusted QBR was 76.7 in 2011, 81.5 in 2012 and 83.5 this season.

He was even better against SEC competition. In conference games, McCarron had an 86.4 opponent-adjusted QBR, tied for the best in the conference. Fellow Heisman candidate Manziel was third (85.5).

RB Andre Williams, Boston College
This season, Williams became just the 16th player in FBS history to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season, and the first since Donald Brown did so for Connecticut in 2008.

Williams also showed big-play ability. He had 26 runs of at least 20 yards, the most by an FBS player since Kevin Smith had 26 in 2007. His 11 touchdowns on such runs are the most for any player in the last 10 seasons.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
Winston is the clubhouse leader for the Heisman, and as the FBS leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.9), he has good reason to be. The leader in opponent-adjusted QBR in three of the last six seasons went on to win the Heisman, including Manziel last year.

Winston has also showed a clutch presence on the field throughout the year. On third downs, Winston has a 98.9 Total QBR, leading all FBS quarterbacks. Over the last 10 seasons, the highest third-down Total QBR in a completed season was also 98.9, by Andrew Luck in 2010.

Key matchup: Auburn line vs. Missouri 'D'

December, 6, 2013
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The matchup to watch in the SEC Championship Game is the battle in the trenches when Auburn has the football.

Auburn’s offensive line is among the nation’s best at opening holes for its runners and protecting its quarterback. Conversely, Missouri has one of the top defensive lines in the nation at stopping the run and getting after the quarterback.

Auburn’s offensive line
Auburn averages 318.3 rushing yards per game and 6.3 yards per carry, both of which rankfifth in the FBS. Its success is predicated on its offensive line’s ability to open holes for quarterback Nick Marshall and the running backs.

On designed runs, Auburn averages an AQ-high 210.3 yards per game before first contact. That is 108.5 more than the AQ average. Auburn gained 189 such yards against Alabama, 95 more than any other team has gained against the Tide in the last two seasons.

Auburn averages an SEC-high 4.5 yards before contact per rush and makes it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage before contact on 31 percent of its rushes.

The key has been Auburn’s ability to set the edge. Gus Malzahn’s team leads all schools from AQ (automatic-qualifyin)g conferences in rushing yards (2,584) and touchdowns (26) outside the tackles, and ranks second in yards per carry (8.3) on such plays behind Wisconsin.

How Missouri’s defense can stop Auburn’s run?

Missouri is allowing 119.1 rushing yards per game, second fewest in the SEC behind Alabama, and has held all 12 of its opponents below their season average in rushing yards. These Tigers have held opponents to zero or negative yards on 29 percent of their rush attempts, the highest percentage in the SEC.

The key for Missouri will be containing Nick Marshall and Auburn’s zone read. Zone reads have accounted for 42 percent of Auburn’s carries. On such plays, Auburn is averaging 7.2 yards per rush and has an SEC-high 16 runs of 20 yards or longer.

Missouri has struggled to stop these plays this season, allowing 4.9 yards per rush, including 6.1 when the opposing quarterback keeps the ball. If they can stop them Saturday and force Auburn to throw the ball, Gary Pinkel’s team will be able to do what it does best, rush the passer.

Missouri’s defensive line
Missouri lead the SEC with 37 sacks, 74 knockdowns and 116 total pressures (hurries, knockdowns and sacks).

Yet, Missouri does not have to send extra pass rushers to get after the quarterback. Missouri sends four or fewer pass rushers on 89 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks, the highest percentage of any AQ defense. When sending such pressure, the Tigers have an AQ-high 32 sacks and 97 total pressures.

Defensive ends Michael Sam and Kony Ealy are among the nation’s best defensive linemen. Sam leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Ealy leads the SEC with 30 total pressures and 14 quarterback hits.

How Auburn’s offense stops Missouri’s pass rush?
Auburn must keep its run game going to limit Missouri’s pass rush. Auburn runs on 69 percent of its plays, the highest percentage of any non-triple option offense. If they can run the ball with success, there will be no need for them to pass.

Something has to give
Missouri is one of seven teams that has not allowed 200 yards rushing in any of its games this season, and Auburn has rushed for more than 200 yards in 11 of its 12 games.

Conversely, Auburn is one of 26 FBS teams that has not allowed more than three sacks in any of its games, while Missouri is averaging an SEC-high 3.1 sacks per game.

Both teams are in the midst of magical, turnaround seasons. For both teams, winning an SEC Championship would be the final piece to validate those turnarounds. Whichever team can impose its will in the trenches when Auburn has the football will be one step closer to achieving its goals.

Key matchup: Alabama D vs. Auburn's run

November, 29, 2013
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US PresswireAuburn has scored at least four rushing touchdowns in each of its past six games.

This year's "Iron Bowl of all Iron Bowls” features a matchup of strengths as Auburn’s rush offense is pitted against Alabama’s rush defense.

Under new coach Gus Malzahn, Auburn leads the SEC in rushing yards, yards per rush and rushing touchdowns. The Tigers have 21 more rushing touchdowns than they had all of last season, and they have scored at least four rushing touchdowns in six straight games.

Alabama’s defense leads the SEC in rushing yards, yards per rush and rushing touchdowns allowed. The Tide have allowed five total rushing touchdowns this season, and they are the only FBS team that has not allowed an opponent to rush for multiple touchdowns in a game.

The key to Auburn’s success has been its ability to create holes, particularly using the zone read, which has led to big plays on the ground.

Space to Run
Auburn has won the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Tigers average 209.5 rushing yards per game before first contact, most among teams in BCS AQ conferences. To put that into perspective, 97 FBS teams do not average 209.5 total rushing yards per game. The AQ average for rushing yards before contact per game is 97.0.

On designed rushes, the Tigers are averaging 4.6 yards per rush before first contact, best among AQ-conference schools. They have made it at least 5 yards past the line of scrimmage before initial contact on an SEC-high 31 percent of these rushes.

How Alabama matches up: The Tide have allowed an SEC-low 44.3 yards before contact per game and 2.0 yards before contact per designed rush. The Tide have allowed just 13 percent of their opponents’ rushes to gain 5 yards before first contact.

Zone Read
Auburn has utilized a zone read on 43 percent of its designed rushes this season, the second-highest percentage in the SEC. The Tigers lead the SEC in yards (1,589), yards per rush (7.2) and touchdowns (18) on zone-read rushes.

When Nick Marshall keeps the ball on the zone read, he has gained 657 yards and has seven touchdowns. He is averaging 9.4 yards per rush on such plays, best among BCS AQ quarterbacks with at least 25 such rushes.

How Alabama matches up: No quarterback has gained more than 22 yards on zone-read rushes against the Tide. Overall, Alabama’s opponents have averaged 3.6 yards per rush and have one rushing touchdown on 78 zone-read plays.

Big Plays
Auburn has 64 rushes of 15 yards or longer this season, second-most in the FBS, behind New Mexico (66). The Tigers have at least three such rushes in every game except one, a win against Mississippi State.

How Alabama matches up: Alabama has allowed just three rushes of 15 yards or longer all season, on pace to be the lowest total in the past 10 seasons. The Tide are able to limit long runs because they do not miss tackles, and they limit their opponents after contact.

Alabama has 30 missed tackles this season, 16 fewer than any AQ conference team. The Tide also have allowed an SEC-low 40 yards after contact per game.


Saturday’s Iron Bowl
Something has to give on Saturday; Auburn has rushed for at least 200 yards and two touchdowns in 10 of its 11 games this season, and Alabama has not allowed any of its opponents to rush for 200 yards or two touchdowns in a game.

Though Marshall has shown the ability to throw the ball, Auburn’s game plan is predicated on its running game. The Tigers run on 69 percent of their plays, the highest percentage for a non-triple-option offense, and have not attempted fewer than 35 rushes in a game.

If Alabama can shut down Auburn’s running game, the Tide may find themselves one win away from a third straight trip to the BCS National Championship. However, if Auburn can run the ball, the Tigers may be able to pull the upset against their biggest rival.

Week 12: A Tide-turning catch

November, 19, 2013
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Ricardo LouisShanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsRicardo Louis is listed fourth (at best) among wide receivers on the Auburn depth chart.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our "Story of the Season" double issue Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week's biggest moments and tell you why they'll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.

Throw me the ball.

As Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall looked at his teammates in the huddle, the situation at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday was bleak. To be more specific, it was fourth-and-18 at your own 27 with 36 seconds to go and you’ve just blown a 20-point fourth-quarter lead to Georgia and you’re about to get knocked out of the BCS race bleak.

The play call from first-year coach Gus Malzahn was for Marshall to find sophomore wideout Sammie Coates somewhere in the middle of the field on a dig route. You know, play it in the middle, get the first down, stop the clock and keep marching. After all, Coates had entered the Georgia game ranked second in the nation by averaging nearly 25 yards per catch.

But as the Tigers broke the huddle, it wasn’t Coates who shouted to get his quarterback's attention. "Ricardo Louis looked me in the eye and said, 'Throw me the ball,'" Marshall recalls with crystal clarity.

Wait ... Ricardo Louis?! The same Ricardo Louis who's listed fourth (at best) among wide receivers on the Auburn depth chart? The sophomore who'd had two games with negative receiving yards? And whose only touchdown catch had come against Western Carolina?

Actually, that Ricardo Louis hadn't shown up on this day. The Louis who suited up against Georgia played a pivotal role in the 117th edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. His pair of beautiful, short-side speed sweeps had resulted in 66 yards rushing and set up two Auburn touchdowns. He'd also hauled in 58 yards receiving to that point in the game. Finally, his still-young career, which had been highlighted more by mistakes (such as running into running back Tre Mason on a would-be handoff, squashing a drive and spurring UGA's stunning fourth-quarter comeback), was showing hints of the promise that he'd arrived with from Miami as the No. 21 recruit in the country.

Yes, he was feeling it. And he wanted everyone to know they should take advantage of this suddenly fortuitous night. He'd bugged Malzahn and his staff on the sideline, promising that if they gave him the ball, he'd make a big play. He said the same to teammates. Now he was telling his quarterback.

Hey, it wasn’t that crazy. He was just repeating what he'd already been told.

"I always dreamed about making a great play in a big game," Louis said Saturday night. "Coach Malzahn said at the beginning of the week, he was like, 'Ricardo is due for a great play in a big game!' And he was right."

He was. But as Malzahn watched the play develop after the snap, he wasn't thinking about any midweek premonitions. He was waiting to watch Marshall lob a first-down pass to Coates, who had started in the slot and was open, cutting across the middle. Instead, Marshall cocked his arm and uncorked a much longer pass from his 27 well into Georgia territory.

"I went through all my reads," Marshall said. "[Louis] had a step on the defender, and I had to deliver the ball. He just came out with an awesome catch."

It was not an awesome throw. It was short. So short that not one but two Georgia defenders had a play on it. For the Dawgs' sake, they will always wish it had been only one. The ball went through the hands of safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and off the pads of Tray Matthews ... into the hands of Louis ... who ran into the end zone, giving Auburn a 43-38 victory and establishing his place in the annals of War Eagle lore.

So what was the sudden SEC folk hero thinking as the most ridiculous bounce since The Immaculate Reception landed in his gloves? “I thought I was going to drop it ... for real.”

He didn't. What dropped were the heads of the Georgia coaching staff, some of whom collapsed to the turf in disbelief, one last kick in the groin for a team that has experienced a year full of them. Nearly the same reaction probably happened in nearly every corner of the SEC, from Tuscaloosa to both Columbias. Had the ball fallen incomplete -- which it very well might have had it not been touched -- then Alabama would’ve instantly clinched the SEC West and essentially the same thing would've happened for Missouri in the East. And keep in mind that all of this happened when it looked as though Florida might have a chance to beat South Carolina. (That didn’t happen.)

So now the Iron Bowl on Nov. 30 might end up being one of the biggest in the history of the series, with an SEC and perhaps even BCS championship at stake. The Missouri Tigers still have the Gamecocks breathing down their necks with no margin of error against Ole Miss or Texas A&M. (South Carolina is done with its conference slate.) Meanwhile, Auburn’s dream season rolls on and Georgia continues its walk through the haunted house it entered in early October.

Throw in what are suddenly Pac-12 and Big 12 round-robin elimination tournaments, and it’s hard to think of another single play that had such a profound impact on so many current and former BCS hopefuls. Oh, and toss in the fact that Auburn didn't enter the AP Top 25 until Week 8 ... and then the goofiness of the play itself ... and, well ... Mr. Louis?

"Unbelievable."

Yeah, that.

3-point stance: Oregon's trap game?

November, 18, 2013
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1. In the 11th game of last season, Oregon lost to Stanford, 17-14, in overtime. In the 11th game in 2011, Oregon lost to USC, 38-35. In the 11th game in 2009, Oregon held on to win at Arizona, 44-41, in three overtimes. I’m not smart enough to figure that out. Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost told me that in April. The coaches didn’t have a reason, other than fatigue or overconfidence. But they are aware of it. If Oregon looks flat at Arizona this week, it won’t be from falling into the same trap.

2. Alabama and Florida State are guaranteed nothing in the BCS. But the gulf between the No. 2 Seminoles and No. 3 Buckeyes indicates that there won’t be any drama about who goes to Pasadena as long as the Crimson Tide and the Seminoles win out. Given that Alabama still must play No. 6 Auburn, and then, with a win, either No. 8 Missouri or No. 11 South Carolina, we may yet witness a huge public debate about the Buckeyes and No. 4 Baylor. As of now, that debate is for entertainment purposes only.

3. Here’s one thing the BCS standings might have gotten right: as Coaches By the Numbers tweeted Sunday, only three teams are 5-0 this season against teams with winning records. They are No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Ohio State. You can argue that their opponents don’t play anyone, hence their records. But if it were that easy to beat that many teams with records over .500, more than three teams would have done so.

Auburn gets improbable win vs. Georgia

November, 16, 2013
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How unlikely was Auburn’s miraculous victory Saturday over Georgia?

Auburn had a 7.3 percent chance of winning before Nick Marshall threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Ricardo Louis. The touchdown came on 4th-and-18 with 25 seconds remaining to give the No. 7 Tigers a 43-38 lead.

At the end of the play, Auburn had a 99.8 percent win probability, so that play increased Auburn’s win probability by 92.5 percentage points. Nebraska’s Hail Mary pass as time expired against Northwestern was the only play that had a greater increase in win probability this season.

Here are the top five plays in FBS this season in terms of win probability added:

• 97.2: On Nov. 2, Nebraska threw a 49-yard touchdown as time expired to win 27-24 against Northwestern.

• 92.5: On Saturday, Auburn threw a 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds remaining to take a 43-38 lead against Georgia.

• 90.3: On Sept. 21, Florida Atlantic threw a 21-yard touchdown pass with 3 seconds remaining to tie the game against Middle Tennessee.

• 89.8: On Nov. 2, Rutgers threw a 33-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left to take a 23-20 lead against Temple.

• 74.7: On Oct. 5, South Alabama threw a 65-yard touchdown with 48 seconds left to go ahead 33-27 against Troy.

Auburn has now won 86 consecutive games when scoring at least 20 points. Its last such loss came in 1996 against Georgia.

Florida State versus Duke in ACC championship?
Florida State dominated its competition once again. For the second straight game, the Seminoles won 59-3, this time against Syracuse. Florida State is the first FBS team to score at least 59 points and hold its opponent to three points or fewer in consecutive games since the Seminoles did it in 1988.

Meanwhile, Duke now controls its own destiny on the path to the ACC championship game. The Blue Devils defeated Miami (Fla.) 48-30, their first time winning consecutive games against ranked opponents since 1989. The Blue Devils have won eight games in a season for the first time since 1994.

New NCAA record
After Division III Western Connecticut’s Octavias McKoy broke the NCAA single-game rushing record earlier this season with 455 yards, we now have a new record-holder. Cartel Brooks of Division III Heidelberg set a new NCAA record Saturday with 465 rushing yards.

Will Auburn meet its match in Georgia's D?

November, 15, 2013
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Gus Malzahn’s return to Auburn has reinvigorated the school’s rushing attack to heights never before seen at Auburn. One year after finishing ninth in the conference in rushing, the 2013 Tigers lead the SEC in rushing yards per game (320), yards per rush (6.5) and touchdowns (33). Auburn is on pace to break school records in each of those categories.

Quarterback Nick Marshall has been a catalyst for the running game. His 734 rushing yards leads all SEC quarterbacks and ranks fourth among FBS quarterbacks.

His numbers so far this season compare favorably to former Auburn star Cam Newton. During Newton’s Heisman Trophy-winning 2010 season, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry and posted a Total QBR of 78.6 on runs. Marshall averages 7.1 yards per rush with a Total QBR of 80.2 on runs.

Auburn’s running game will face its toughest test of the season this Saturday against a Georgia run defense that allows 3.4 yards per rush, 20th-best in the FBS.

Auburn’s Success On Zone Reads
Much of Auburn’s success on the ground this season has come on zone-read runs. Auburn averages 151 yards per game with 17 touchdowns on such runs, leading the SEC in both. Last year, Auburn tallied 138 yards on zone-read runs all season.

Marshall leads all BCS-AQ (automatic-qualifying) quarterbacks with 588 yards on zone-read runs, averaging 9.5 yards per carry. Last week Marshall torched Tennessee for 221 yards on just 13 carries on zone-reads.

The key to Auburn’s zone-read running game is its ability to stretch the defense, with 978 of its 1,505 yards on zone-read runs coming outside the tackles. Overall, Auburn has run for an AQ-high 2,186 yards outside the tackle box, 521 more yards than any other AQ team.

How Georgia Matches Up Defensively
Though Auburn’s running game has been dominant this season, it has not faced a team that ranked in the top 50 in rushing yards allowed per carry. The two best defenses it has faced (Mississippi State and LSU) held Auburn to its lowest rushing totals of the season (120 and 213 yards respectively). Against other opponents, Auburn is averaging 358 rushing yards per game, including 444 against Tennessee last week.

Georgia is the best run defense Auburn will have faced all year, allowing 126 rushing yards per game, 21st-best in the FBS.

Recent history is also on Georgia’s side. Its defense has shut down Auburn each of the last two seasons, allowing a total of seven points and 108 rushing yards in those two meetings.

Still, Georgia has shown vulnerability in many areas Auburn excels. Its only three opponents that ran the zone read more than four times in a game against the Bulldogs (South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida) averaged 101 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry on zone-read runs.

Georgia has been especially inefficient against zone-read rushes outside the tackle box, allowing 9.3 yards per rush.

Whichever team can run the ball better will likely win the game. In each of the last 10 meetings, the team with more rushing yards won.

Running room, tough yards fueling Auburn

October, 31, 2013
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Gus Malzahn has the Auburn Tigers at 7-1 and ranked 11th in the BCS standings.

Last season, Auburn finished 3-9, its worst record since 1952. Malzahn served as Auburn’s offensive coordinator in 2010 when the Tigers won the BCS National Championship. In 2012 he was the head coach at Arkansas State. Under Malzahn, the Red Wolves finished 10-3 and were the Sun Belt Champions.

One of the keys to Arkansas State’s success last season was its running game. The Red Wolves led the Sun Belt in rushing yards per game for this first time since the conference sponsored football in 2001.

While Arkansas State ran through the Sun Belt, Auburn finished last in SEC play in rushing yards per game and yards per rush, while finishing tied for last in rushing touchdowns.

Malzahn has flipped the script for Auburn this season; the Tigers lead the SEC in rushing yards per game and yards per rush. They rank second in rushing touchdowns.

Through eight games, they already have 13 more runs of 10 yards or more and eight more rushing touchdowns than they had all of last season.

What specifically has fueled Auburn’s rushing attack in 2013?

More room to run
Auburn leads the SEC and ranks second among BCS AQ schools this season in rushing yards before contact.

Of the Tigers’ 2,523 rushing yards this season, 1,618 have come before contact. They are the only SEC team averaging more than four yards before contact per rush.

In 2012, Auburn was 13th in the SEC with 815 rushing yards before contact. The Tigers have 117 rushes in which they were not contacted until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage this season, 23 more than any other SEC team.

Tre Mason gaining tough yards
One constant for Auburn the last two seasons has been Tre Mason. In 2012, Mason was one of nine SEC players to rush for more than 1,000 yards, and in 2013 he ranks fifth in the conference with 753 rushing yards. However, Mason has been better at picking up tough yards in 2013 compared with 2012.

This season, Mason has converted 76 percent of his runs on third or fourth down, second-best percentage in the SEC behind Missouri’s Henry Josey (minimum 10 attempts). He has converted a first down on 79 percent of such runs with three yards or fewer to go, including a fourth and one play at the Texas A&M 1-yard line in the Tigers win.

Last season, Mason converted 50 percent of his rushes on third or fourth down, including only half when he had fewer than three yards to go for a first down.

Similarly, Mason has four rushing touchdowns in five goal-to-go attempts this season. He had five such touchdowns in 11 attempts last season.

Others besides Mason stepping up
In 12 games last season, Onterio McCalebb was the only Tiger besides Tre Mason to gain more than 400 rushing yards. In eight games this season, three Auburn players other than Mason have run for more than 400 yards.

Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant each have combined for 1,422 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. Each player has his own strengths: Marshall is averaging 7.1 yards per rush on 44 zone-read rushes, Artis-Payne is averaging 7.0 yards per rush on 39 first-down rushes, and Corey Grant is averaging 11.1 yards per rush on 39 rushes outside of the tackles.

Rushing efficiency
Auburn has added 74.0 expected points on rushing plays this season, ninth most in the FBS. Last season, the Tigers had a -6.3 EPA on rushing plays, 78th in the FBS. Expected points added are the contribution of each unit to a team’s net points in a game, so Auburn has added about nine points per game towards its net scoring margin with running plays this season.

Next up for Auburn is a road game against Arkansas, a team that has struggled to stop the run in SEC play. The Razorbacks are allowing 251.5 rushing yards per game and 5.7 yards per rush in conference games, both worst in the SEC.

Pac-12 predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
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It's prediction time! Wheeee!

Last year, Kevin and Ted tied at the end of the regular season with 66-25 records. Ah, but then came the bowl season, and -- cough, cough -- by virtue of Ted going 5-3 and Kevin going 4-4, the old guy prevailed by a single game.

Let's hear it for the old guys!

And you know who won it for Ted? Texas! How about that fudge?

Thursday

UTAH STATE at UTAH

Kevin Gemmell: First game, and I’m already conflicted. This one is scary with Chuckie Keeton back at QB for Utah State and all five of his linemen back to protect him. I think Utah is going to be better than it was last season, and the Utes will be looking for revenge from last year’s loss. In close games, go with the home team. Utah 21, Utah State 17

Ted Miller: This is an interesting one. Utah State changed coaches but has a lot of guys back. The Utes have preseason injury issues -- paging Brian Blechen; your defense needs you -- and those issues have made coach Kyle Whittingham grumpy. But you know why I'm picking Utah? Because I think the Utes are angry about how folks have written them off, and angry often translates well in football. And I like the MUSS being loud. Utah 24, Utah State 21

USC at HAWAII

Kevin Gemmell: A good chance for both USC quarterbacks to get a lot of work against a nonthreatening opponent. Trojans should roll. USC 35, Hawaii 14

Ted Miller: USC is going to win this game, but it would be good for coach Lane Kiffin if the Trojans looked good doing it. Want to be goofy about your QB situation? Fine. You just better look good on offense. The biggest news in this one is which QB starts and, subsequently, who sets himself up to start against Washington State next week. USC 35, Hawaii 20

Friday

NORTHERN ARIZONA at ARIZONA

Kevin Gemmell: How many Arizona quarterbacks will we see in this game? I’m putting the over/under at three -- and I’m leaning toward the over. Arizona 42, NAU 17

Ted Miller: I actually think B.J. Denker is going to be the man for the Wildcats, even if other guys play. The issue is whether he remains that way. I think the only guy who would unseat him is Jesse Scroggins, and he has struggled to stay healthy. Arizona 40, NAU 14

Saturday

NICHOLLS STATE at OREGON

Kevin Gemmell: The only concern here is that Marcus Mariota tweaks a fingernail pulling off his shoulder pads at halftime. Oregon 48, Nicholls State 7

Ted Miller: I'm actually afraid for Nicholls State. Oregon 101, Nicholls State 3

EASTERN WASHINGTON at OREGON STATE

Kevin Gemmell: Eastern Washington is a pretty good Football Championship Subdivision team. And Oregon State fans know better than to overlook FCS teams. But I see no reason the Beavers don’t roll in this one. Oregon State 35, Eastern Washington 10

Ted Miller: The Beavers have some nagging injury issues, so they just want to win this one and get out of the game healthy. And they want Sean Mannion to justify his winning a high-profile QB competition. Oregon State 41, Eastern Washington 17

NEVADA at UCLA

Kevin Gemmell: A good tuneup game for the Bruins against a team that has some bite. I really like what Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo is capable of. But I like Brett Hundley better. Should be a decent game, but ultimately not enough to give UCLA a real scare. UCLA 35, Nevada 17

Ted Miller: Sitting here making this pick, I realize how Jim Mora has changed things at UCLA in just one year. For a decade or so previous to him, this is exactly the sort of game that you'd pause over, going, "Hmm ... UCLA is better but, man, do the Bruins know how to blow it!" Mora inspires confidence in terms of his team coming out in a businesslike fashion and playing like the superior collection of athletes that it is. UCLA 40, Nevada 24

BOISE STATE at WASHINGTON

Kevin Gemmell: Should be one of the closest, most competitive games in the country in Week 1. And in close games, sticking with my personal doctrine, I’ll go with the home team. Washington 24, Boise State 21

Ted Miller: These teams were tightly contested in the Las Vegas Bowl, and the Huskies look like a better team than they were last season, while the Broncos have a lot of guys to replace. Still, it comes down to Huskies QB Keith Price. If he's his 2011 self again, Washington will roll. Washington 30, Boise State 21

NORTHWESTERN at CALIFORNIA

Kevin Gemmell: I think the Bears will show a little backbone and Jared Goff will gain some confidence. But probably not enough to beat a ranked team in his first career start. However, it’ll be closer than people think. Northwestern 35, California 28

Ted Miller: Hello, Cal fans. It's me again. I've got bad news. I think you're going to win this game. Of course, that probably means you're going to lose, because the Bears never do what I think they'll do. Or was that just a Jeff Tedford thing? I'm so conflicted. Maybe if someone brought me a calabrese from Top Dog I could make sense of it all? California 27, Northwestern 24

WASHINGTON STATE at AUBURN

Kevin Gemmell: I got burned by the Cougs in the season opener last year when they were two-touchdown dogs on the road, and it haunts me to this day. Lesson learned. Auburn 28, Washington State 21

Ted Miller: Both teams went 3-9 last season, but the Tigers have a lot more size and athletes. I think the Cougars are going to put a scare into Auburn and its fans, but the Tigers' athleticism and, perhaps, the Southeastern humidity will wear WSU down in the fourth quarter. Auburn 33, Washington State 24

COLORADO STATE vs. COLORADO

Kevin Gemmell: The Rams bring back nine starters on offense. But Paul Richardson is due for a multitouchdown game. Colorado will get a little vengeance from last season. Bring on the Mac attack. Colorado 27, Colorado State 17

Ted Miller: I stared at the Colorado depth chart Tuesday and had an interesting reaction that surprised me: maybe. The Buffs should have won this game last season, and I think they're better than in 2012. Colorado 30, Colorado State 27

Hope springs in the Pac-12

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
9:00
AM ET
The 2013 season will be the final year of the BCS era.

And there was much rejoicing!

So, what have been the Pac-12 highs and lows of this often confounding system? Thanks for asking!

Best

1. USC drubs Oklahoma for the 2004 national title: The 55-19 victory over unbeaten Oklahoma was the most dominant display of the BCS era. It was also the pinnacle of the Trojans' dynasty under Pete Carroll. It's worth noting that future Pac-12 member Utah also whipped Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl to finish unbeaten that same year.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesReggie Bush and USC ran away with the 2004 national title.
2. USC wins "real" national title: In 2003, USC was No. 1 in the AP and Coaches polls at season's end. If you had eyes and knew anything about football, it was clear the Trojans were the nation's most-talented team on both sides of the football, a notion that was reinforced the following season. Two teams picked by computers played in New Orleans -- most folks outside of Louisiana don't even remember who -- and that forced the Trojans to settle for three-fourths of a national title after dominating Michigan 28-14.

3. The year of the Northwest: After the 2000 season, three teams from the Northwest finished ranked in the AP top seven. Washington beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl and finished third. Oregon State drubbed Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished fourth. Oregon beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl to finish seventh.

4. Oregon gets left out but finishes No. 2: One of the grand faux paus of the BCS era was Nebraska playing Miami for the 2001 national title. Nebraska was coming off a 62-36 loss to Colorado, but the computers failed to notice, and the Cornhuskers were euthanized by the Hurricanes before halftime. The Ducks would whip that same Colorado team 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl and finish ranked No. 2.

5. Oregon and Stanford both win: The 2012-13 bowl season wasn't good to the Pac-12, but Oregon pounded Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl and Stanford beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. The Ducks finished ranked No. 2 and Stanford was seventh. It was just the second time two Pac-10/12 teams won BCS bowl games in the same season.

Worst

1. Just one BCS national title, lots of frustration: No conference has more legitimate gripes with the BCS system than the Pac-12. Multiple seasons saw the conference have teams skipped over, most notably Oregon in 2001 and USC in 2003 and 2008. And ask California fans about how Texas coach Mack Brown gamed the system in 2004, preventing the Bears from playing in the Rose Bowl.

2. USC's three-peat gets Vince Younged: It's difficult to look at Texas's epic 41-38 win over USC as anything but great college football art -- perhaps the all-time greatest game -- but Trojans fans don't feel that way. The loss prevented USC from claiming three consecutive national titles and, of course, a second BCS crown for the Pac-10/12.

3. Oregon falls short versus Auburn: Oregon looked like a great team and Auburn a team with two great players before the BCS title game after the 2010 season. The Ducks chose a bad time to play one of their worst games of the season, but they still nearly prevailed before being undone by a dramatic game-winning drive from the Tigers.

4. Make a field goal, Stanford: Stanford kicker Jordan Williamson missed three field goals, including a certain game-winner from 35 yards on the last play of regulation, in the Cardinal's 41-38 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after the 2011 season. Williamson also missed from 43 yards in overtime, which set the Cowboys up for the win. Stanford dominated the game, outgaining the Cowboys 590 yards to 412, with a 243-13 edge in rushing.

5. Ducks drop Rose Bowl: Oregon fell flat in Chip Kelly's first BCS bowl game, with the favored Ducks losing to Ohio State 26-17 in the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season. Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor had perhaps the best game of his career -- 266 yards passing, 72 rushing -- and the Ducks offense struggled, gaining just 260 yards.
1. The ACC administrators all leapt to praise commissioner John Swofford on Monday for keeping the league united for the next 14 years. OK, fine. But it seems to me that the praise belongs to the schools themselves. North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Florida State, Clemson -- nearly every ACC institution has had its name linked to another league. The schools decided they had enough money, and stuck with their history and tradition. They stuck with each other. And Maryland will go play Purdue.

2. Oklahoma State senior cornerback Justin Gilbert picked off two passes in the spring game Saturday and returned them for 108 yards. Head coach Mike Gundy praised him, of course, but Gundy’s comment last week is what caught my eye. “Justin’s had a really nice change of attitude in the past few months,” Gundy said. Or, as Hall of Fame coach Don James of Washington once said. “When they’re freshmen, you wonder why you recruited them. When they’re seniors, you wish they would never leave.”

3. The performance of the spring in the SEC goes to the Auburn fans. The Tigers are coming off a 3-9 season and have lost 10 consecutive SEC games. Yet 83,000 fans turned out for the spring game Saturday, about 5,000 more than rival Alabama, the BCS champion, drew at the same time. Yes, the Auburn fans went to say goodbye to the trees at Toomer’s Corner. But the truth is, that spirit is more important than the changes made by new coach Gus Malzahn. That spirit will keep Auburn from staying down long.
1. The appearance is that Louisville’s run in this academic year -- a BCS bowl victory, and the championship game in men’s and women’s basketball -- will catapult the Cardinals into being the top dog in the ACC when they arrive in 2014. The reality is that Louisville would be No. 1 anyway, if the measurement is athletic revenue. Louisville expected to bring in $85 million this year before it capitalizes on its competitive success.

2. Penn State used its three outdoor practice fields for 14 of 15 spring workouts a year ago. On Monday, the Nittany Lions went outside for only the second time in nine workouts to date. Snow -- then the mud underneath it -- forced the team into the indoor facility time after time. As for the other issue head coach Bill O’Brien cannot change, the shorthanded roster, Penn State is long on tight ends. If you like the Stanford offense, with two and three tight ends, you may love the Nittany Lions this fall.

3. The past week has illustrated the complete spectrum of what we love and despise about college athletics. The drug issues and charges of wrongdoing at Auburn, shoved aside by the coaching misdeeds and boardroom intrigue at Rutgers, cast a shadow on the Final Four weekends in Atlanta and New Orleans. And then, 7-year-oid Jack Hoffman runs for a 69-yard touchdown in the Nebraska spring game, a reminder of the emotion that compels us to love our teams in the first place.
videoCornerback Mackensie Alexander of Immokalee (Fla.) High School, the No. 2 corner and No. 4 overall prospect in the ESPN 150, selected Clemson on Wednesday in a ceremony at his high school. Alexander, the No. 2-ranked player in Florida, visited Auburn and Mississippi State late but settled on a school to which he made an official visit in November.

He said he connected with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.

“He’s a church guy like me,” Alexander said in an interview on ESPNU. “I trust in them guys. I’m going to be in a great position.”
Marcus Mariota and Collin KleinUSA TODAY SportsWith quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Collin Klein, the Fiesta Bowl won't be lacking in star power.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night? Forget the corn chips; this matchup is about something else.

It's the Regret Bowl. The What Might Have Been Bowl. It's the Can the Mayans Make the Apocalypse Take Out Only Nov. 17 Bowl.

If Nov. 17, when No. 4 Oregon and No. 5 Kansas State both lost their only game of the season, were wiped away, this Ducks-Wildcats showdown likely would have been for the national title.

So, yes, when the Ducks and Wildcats turned on ESPN during the past month or so and watched reports on Alabama and Notre Dame, they often were nicked by a pang of regret, no matter how philosophical a pose their respective coaches tried to establish in the locker room.

Regrets? Yeah, both teams have a few.

"Yeah, a little bit, I'm going to be honest with you," Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "It's one of those things you have to learn from. We lost at the wrong time."

Of course, denial can come in handy. Alabama-Notre Dame? Who are they?

"I think this is the best two teams in the nation in this game right here," said Kansas State receiver Chris Harper, who transferred from Oregon. "I know Notre Dame and Alabama have their game, but I think this is the best matchup."

It's certainly a good matchup. No other bowls -- other than that aforementioned matchup in South Florida -- matches top-five teams. You have plenty of star power, with Kansas State QB Collin Klein, a Heisman Trophy finalist, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, both All-Americans. Then there's celebrated Ducks redshirt freshman quarterback Mariota, who was first-team All-Pac-12 and will be near the top of many 2013 preseason Heisman lists.

And then there are the coaches. Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, the septuagenarian program builder, and Oregon's Chip Kelly, the wise-cracking mad scientist of offense, both would make just about everyone's top-10 list of college football coaches. An added dimension of intrigue is the possibility that Kelly may be coaching his last game as a Duck, as he's being eyeballed by a number of NFL teams.

Said Kelly, "I do not know what the future holds. I do know we have a football game [Thursday] night, and I'm going to be there."

Kelly's crew is playing in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl game. It lost its first two, including here to Auburn in the national title game after the 2010 season, but beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl last year. Kansas State is playing in its first BCS bowl game since 2003, and it has lost its past two bowl games.

So there doesn't seem to be much question about how hungry the Wildcats are to end their season with a victory.

"It would be huge," said Klein, who is 21-4 over the past two seasons. "We talk about finishing all the time. We haven't been able to finish the last two years. To be able to do that is very important to us."

Part of Kelly's coaching philosophy is that every game is the same -- a Super Bowl! -- because your preparation should always be your best. Yet the Ducks want to maintain their perch among college football's elite. A Fiesta Bowl victory likely would cement a 2013 preseason top-five ranking because the Ducks have a lot of talent coming back next fall.

"We have to make a statement to the rest of the country," Ducks offensive lineman Kyle Long said.

As for keys, you hear the usual from both coaches: turnovers, tackling, special teams, etc. But turnovers seem to be even more notable than usual in this one, at least based on the teams' performances this season.

Kansas State has the third-fewest turnovers (10) in the FBS this season and has forced the eighth-most (31). Oregon is tied for first in turnovers forced with 38, including 24 interceptions. The Ducks turned the ball over 19 times, second-fewest in the Pac-12.

Klein had three interceptions in the Wildcats' 52-24 loss to Baylor.

"When we've turned it over, we've struggled," Snyder said. "When we haven't, we've played reasonably well."

Sure, both teams wish they were playing for a national title. But the winner of this game will finish ranked in the top four. So that's better than 116 other FBS teams. Not too shabby, even if it includes a dose of what might have been.

Kelly was asked what he'd learned after playing in four consecutive bowl games.

"I think you learn really how hard it is to get there," he said. "That's the one thing I think as a team, as a staff, as a group of players, to not take it for granted. It's a truly special thing to be able to play in a BCS game."

Of course, it's more special to win one.

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