SEC: Jalen Ramsey

Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today’s matchup is between Auburn’s running backs and Florida State’s linebackers.

[+] EnlargeAuburn's Nick Marshall
AP Photo/Dave MartinNick Marshall isn't a running back, but with over 1,000 yards rushing, Auburn's quarterback provides a lethal ground threat.
Auburn’s running backs: Gus Malzahn has always been one to tailor his offense around his team’s skill set. In this case, it’s safe to say that Auburn’s strength is running the football. The Tigers have run on 71 percent of its plays, the highest percentage of any non-triple-option offense in the FBS. They lead the nation in rushing yards per game and are one of five schools this season to have two players with at least 1,000 rushing yards.

The star is running back Tre Mason. He leads the SEC in rushing (1,621 yards) and rushing touchdowns (22), rushing for a career-high 304 yards and four touchdowns on 46 carries in the SEC championship game. That performance, along with his 164-yard outing against No. 1 Alabama, earned him a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation.

But as impressive as Mason has been all year, it’s quarterback Nick Marshall who makes this offense go. Technically, Marshall isn’t a running back, but how can you not include him in this category when he has over 1,000 yards rushing? The junior college transfer seems to get better every game as he gets more and more comfortable with the zone-read. Florida State has the athletes to defend Auburn’s offense, but Marshall’s ability to run turns a great offense into a nearly unstoppable offense.

The wild card of the group is Corey Grant, a former Alabama transfer. If Mason is the thunder, Grant is the lightning. The junior has been used sparingly, but he’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. He has 650 yards and six touchdowns on the season and is among the nation’s best in yards per carry (10.0).

Statistically speaking, Florida State has been strong against the run, but the Seminoles haven’t faced a rushing attack quite like Auburn’s “four-headed monster.” When they faced Boston College’s Andre Williams, they gave up 149 yards to the Heisman finalist. Mason is every bit the player that Williams is, and that’s just one of the multiple weapons Auburn has in its arsenal.

Florida State’s linebackers: It’s hard to know quite what to make of this matchup. On the one hand, FSU has been exceptional against the run for most of the season. The Seminoles are eighth nationally, allowing just 3.1 yards per carry (and just 2.9 in the first halves of games), and the first-team defense has yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Throw out the second half against NC State (when the backups played the entirety), and FSU is allowing just 2.6 yards per rush since the start of October, when Christian Jones moved up to the defensive line and Terrance Smith stepped in as the starting middle linebacker.

The problem, of course, is that Maryland and Wake Forest and Duke didn’t provide anything close to the challenge Auburn will on Jan. 6. The best rushing offense Florida State faced this year was Boston College, and not coincidentally, no team had more success on the ground (200 yards) or overall (34 points) against FSU this season.

Still, the Seminoles defense has evolved immensely since that BC game. Terrance and Telvin Smith have both developed into reliable defenders against the run. Jones provides an athletic defender on the edge. Jalen Ramsey (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) moved to safety and can play sideline to sideline against the run. Both Jones and Ramsey will be vital against an Auburn team that runs outside the tackles routinely with great success (averaging 6.3 yards before contact outside the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Info, best among AQ schools). FSU is allowing just 3.1 yards per rush between the tackles this year, but 5.1 outside.

The Seminoles have the athleticism on defense to make life tough for an Auburn running game that hasn’t struggled often, but what the Tigers do well is also the one place where some questions remain for Florida State.

Ostendorf: Edge Auburn

Hale: Slight edge for Auburn
When it comes to recruiting, the readers believe it's still Alabama's world.

Florida might be No. 1 in ESPN's class rankings, but with more than 7,100 votes cast in our SportsNation poll, Alabama was picked to take home the recruiting class crown by grabbing 40 percent of the vote. Alabama currently has the No. 2 class, with 22 commits (10 ESPN 150 members).

Alabama has a chance to add to its already impressive class with a handful of ESPN 150 members still heavily considering the Crimson Tide, including top middle linebacker Reuben Foster, safety Antonio Conner, defensive tackle Dee Liner and running back Alvin Kamara. Adding a couple of those names might propel the Tide over Florida.

The Gators were third in our poll, as Texas collected 27 percent of the vote to come in second. The Aggies have the nation's No. 7 recruiting class and 32 commitments. A&M has six ESPN 150 members and is hoping to add to that number Wednesday with cornerback Mackensie Alexander and athlete Levonte Whitfield still in the mix.

Florida collected 18 percent. While the Gators would like to add to their class, the headliners might already be in hand. The Gators are still in the mix for four-star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who is committed to USC, but is still considering UF and Florida State. He's ranked No. 14 nationally by ESPN recruiting services and is the top remaining prospect on the Gators' board. ESPN 300 defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick is still strongly considering UF as well.

Georgia was fourth with 10 percent of the vote, while LSU grabbed 5 percent. The Bulldogs could have a very exciting signing day with Foster, Kamara, Liner, top offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil and stud defensive lineman Montravius Adams still looking at Georgia. Landing a few those big names would shoot the Dawgs up the ranks, for sure.

LSU might not have a very exciting signing day. The Tigers own the nation's No. 6 class, with 26 commitments (six ESPN 150 members), but it looks like the staff is waiting on No. 1 Robert Nkemdiche and Auburn defensive end commit Tashawn Bower. Ole Miss is way ahead for Nkemdiche, while it could be tough to flip Bower.
We are a week away from national signing day and the SEC is yet again cleaning up in the recruiting game. Five teams -- Florida, Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia -- currently rank within the top 10 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation class rankings.

Florida and Alabama sit atop the rankings, but who will be No. 1 once signing day has come and gone? Well, we're asking our faithful readers to take a stab at peering into their crystal ball.

SportsNation

Which of these schools will have the best recruiting class?

  •  
    40%
  •  
    18%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    27%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,358)

The Gators have 26 total commitments, with eleven of those pledges being ESPN 150 members and 15 ranking inside the ESPN 300. Florida is still looking to close its class with a few big names, and the Gators are still in the running for a few ESPN 150 members, like defensive tackle defensive tackle Montravius Adams cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Mackensie Alexander, and defensive end Elijah Daniel. Top tackle Laremy Tunsil from right down the road in Lake City, Fla., seems like a long shot, but he's still on the Gators' radar. One-time Gator commit and ESPN 150 linebacker Quinton Powell could get back into Florida's fold as well.

Alabama has 22 commitments, with 10 ESPN 150 members and 14 ESPN 300 members. Tunsil is seriously considering the Crimson Tide, while former Auburn defensive tackle commit Dee Liner, who is the No. 4 defensive tackle in the country, is now thought to be a heavy lean to Alabama. Top defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes is set to visit Alabama this weekend, and Tide coaches are also looking to snatch ESPN 150 safety Antonio Conner of Batesville, Miss., away from the state of Mississippi. Alabama is still after Mississippi State defensive end commit Chris Jones (ESPN 150) and top inside linebacker Reuben Foster, who was once committed to Alabama.

Texas A&M might have 32 commitments (six ESPN 150 members), but the Aggies are still looking for a couple more players to add to the bunch. Committed defensive end prospects Daeshon Hall (Washington) and Torrodney Prevot (USC) are still in the mix. So is FSU athlete commit Levonte Whitfield, who is another ESPN 150 member.

LSU has surged into the top 10 and now has 27 commitments, including six ESPN 150 members. Auburn defensive end commit Tashawn Bower (ESPN 150) and four-star linebacker Duke Riley visited LSU. Swaying Bower away from Auburn would be a major get for LSU, as the Tigers look to add some help up front with the departures of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Top recruit Robert Nkemdiche has LSU near the top of his list, but LSU's staff will have to do a lot of work if it wants to steal him away from Ole Miss. Getting a last-minute visit this weekend won't hurt.

Then there's Georgia, which is still in the running for a lot of top prospects. Tunsil is the top remaining prospect, and it looks like Georgia is right at the top for his services along with Alabama. Adams is also high on the Bulldogs' radar, and he is very, very interested in Georgia as well. Foster has Georgia on his short list and ESPN 150 running back Alvin Kamara is of high priority to the Bulldogs' staff.

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