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BCS Championship 2014: Tre Mason Breaks Bo Jackson's Record, NFL GMs Salivate

There was no way Auburn running back Tre Mason was going to win the Heisman. 

Neither was quarterback Jordan Lynch from Northern Illinois, for that matter. Or Alabama's AJ McCarron or Boston College running back Andre Williams. Even reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel didn't stand much of a chance. Rather, they were all essentially runner-ups to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who became the second straight redshirt freshman to win the award last month. 

It was a landslide for Winston, winning by the seventh-largest total in Heisman history

But Mason nearly outshined Winston in the BCS National Championship Game Monday night, a 34-31 win for Florida State. While Winston was contained and pressured most of the game by the Tigers' surprisingly good defense, Mason broke free. 

The junior proved to be an important component of Auburn's offense, running the ball 34 times for 195 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 12-yard touchdown reception. 

Mason's performance gives him 1,816 yards on the season, passing Bo Jackson's all-time Auburn rushing record of 1,786 yards. The record-breaking evening comes just one game after Mason broke the SEC Championship's single-game rushing record with 304 yards. 

Jackson, the 1985 Heisman winner, is regarded as one of the best college players ever. Even coming close to Jackson's production, let alone surpassing it, is huge for Mason. 

“Run north and south,” Mason said Jackson told him via the Opelika-Auburn News. “Don’t waste no movement going east and west. Just run right at them.”

While Mason didn't bring home the Heisman, he almost stole the show away from Winston. Mason's longest run of the day, 37 yards, couldn't have come at a more crucial time with 1:19 left in the game to put the Tigers up 31-27. 

It was only when Winston helped orchestrate a seven-play, 80-yard drive to score the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds remaining did he surpass Mason as the game's most valuable player. The 16th and final BCS National Championship will go down as an all-timer, and Mason's performance helped make it possible. 

Once the disappointment subsides, it will be time for Mason to look toward his future. As a junior, he has a decision to make: Come back for another season as sure-fire preseason Heisman candidate, or declare for the upcoming NFL draft. 

Since quarterback Nick Marshall will likely be coming back for another season as well, the opportunity is there for the Tigers to repeat as SEC champions and make it to the first four-team College Football Playoff. The sting of what could have been may be enough to keep Mason around for another year. 

At the same time, his pro prospects are promising. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tweets that, if Mason leaves the college game right away, he has a good chance to start for an NFL team in 2014. 

Miller lists Mason as an early second-round prospect while B/R's Michael Felder says, "Mason is a quality back who can be counted on to pick up positive yardage on most plays. He runs with the violent aggression of someone who is hungry to get those extra yards. That approach is reflected in his ability to get first downs and yards after contact."

Mason has good speed, toughness, decent enough size and can contribute in the passing game. He's played in every game the past two years, so durability hasn't been an issue, which is especially impressive considering the number of carries he's been getting lately. 

All signs point to Mason leaving The Plains for the greener grass of the NFL. No one could blame him if he did. 

If the 2014 BCS National Championship was Mason's last game as an Auburn Tiger, he made his team, his fanbase and even Jackson proud. 

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BCS Championship 2014: Despite Disappointing Ending Auburn Is Here to Stay

PASADENA, Calif. — Team of destiny?

The Auburn Tigers were a team of destiny during the 2013 season, but unfortunately, the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game was played in 2014.

Destiny dealt Auburn a gut punch on Monday night. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston led his Seminoles 80 yards down the field in seven plays in just 58 seconds and hit Kelvin Benjamin on a two-yard pass with 13 seconds to play to win the BCS Championship and hand the Tigers their second loss of the season.

It was nearly a storybook ending for the Tigers, who went from 3-9 a year ago to 13 seconds from hoisting their second crystal football in four years.

Don't expect the Tigers to fall back down into the abyss again, though, because first-year head coach Gus Malzahn has his program back on an elite level and is here to stay.

"There's no doubt, we're going up," Malzahn said. "The experience that we had [this season] and we have most of our guys coming back. Recruiting is going great, and our goal is to get back here. I really believe that we'll do it."

The Tigers do have a boatload of talent coming back.

There's only one senior on Auburn's entire offensive two-deep depth chart—fullback Jay Prosch. Auburn running back Tre Mason, who rushed for 195 yards and one touchdown against the Seminoles, could go pro as could a few other Tigers.

Mason isn't thinking about the potential next step.

"Emotions are everywhere right now," he said. "Right now, I just feel like I let the whole Auburn family down by not finishing. That decision will probably come later on, but right now I'm not thinking of that."

Even if Mason doesn't come back, Malzahn gets a full offseason with most of the pieces that led the Tigers to the second-best offense in the SEC (505.3 YPG). Included in those pieces is rising senior Nick Marshall, who was the trigger man of an offense that evolved into one of the most lethal in the SEC as the season went on.

Marshall completed 14 of 27 passes for 217 yards, two touchdowns and one interception through the air versus the Seminoles and rushed 16 times for 45 yards and one touchdown.

"I felt Nick did a very solid job," Malzahn said. "They were daring us to throw the football early in the game and I think we hit that big own down the middle and it kind of loosened him up a little bit."

Malzahn is excited about helping his quarterback progress as a passer this offseason.

"He's done an outstanding job this year, nothing through spring and leading us to the national championship with a chance to win it. He has a very bright future."

So do his Tigers.

They currently have the eighth-best recruiting class in the nation, according to 247Sports.com, with eight of those commits or signees being defenders with four or more stars in the 247Sports.com composite index. 

That's a scary thought.

Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense has proven to be kryptonite for intrastate rival Nick Saban, and if that top-tier defensive talent can come in and provide depth for the incumbents or break through into the starting lineup, the Tigers will be dancing in the College Football Playoff sooner rather than later.

In this day and age, defense doesn't win championships anymore—just enough defense does. Auburn had enough for 59:47, and finding enough for those final 13 seconds shouldn't have been terribly difficult.

 

*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.

 

 

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Florida State Debunks Myth That Only Battle-Tested Teams Win Championships

The Florida State Seminoles answered the bell, again, in the BCS National Championship Game, putting to bed all the speculation about whether or not this team could handle a close contest late into the fourth quarter. As folks pushed the idea that the Seminoles' lack of close game experience was a negative, Monday night's championship win, 34-31 over the Auburn Tigers, proved the doubters wrong.

The BCS National Championship, played in the Rose Bowl, was a game that saw the Auburn Tigers jump out to a big early lead, forcing Florida State into unfamiliar territory. Down 21-3 in the second quarter, Florida State had to answer the bell.

And the Seminoles did what they have done all season, respond in a big way. This team scored 17 unanswered points to pull within one of the Tigers. Then, following an Auburn field goal, Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield took a kickoff to the house to put the Seminoles ahead of the Tigers.

Florida State's work was not done, following an Auburn touchdown on a phenomenal Tre Mason run, the Seminoles were faced with going 80 yards with 1:19 on the clock facing a 31-27 deficit. Oddly enough, unlike many people speculated, Jimbo Fisher's team did not fold. Fisher's team was not uncertain of what to do in the tense situation under the bright lights. 

Rather, the Seminoles proved that just because they boat-raced everyone on the schedule did not mean they were incapable of handling a tight contest.

Following a rough game, Winston put together a masterful drive. He completed 6-of-7 passes, including the first four consecutive passes to start the drive, grabbing 68 yards of the 80 necessary to go for the score. After a game full of errant passes, slow reads and poor decisions, Winston came alive when his team needed him the most, flying directly in the face of folks who expected a collapse as the moments got bigger in Pasadena.

It was not simply Winston's doing, the quarterback's final pass of the game was to Kelvin Benjamin for a touchdown. Benjamin struggled to get open, had some uncharacteristic drops and was a non-factor for the bulk of the game. Yet, when the chips were down, the Seminoles' receiver showed up in a major way.

Defensively, although the Florida State Seminoles gave up the most rushing yards and total offense of the season, the unit deserves to be applauded for bowing its neck and fighting for 60 minutes. Auburn found big plays in the pass game early, but defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt fixed the back-end without sacrificing his run defense; something teams like Alabama were unable to do.

232 yards on the ground was not the ideal number for the Seminoles; especially with Mason's 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put Auburn back on top. However, those 232 yards were the Tigers' lowest total since the loss to LSU in Week Four, and the third lowest total on the season as a whole. In other words, the Seminoles' effort was one of the best against Gus Malzahn's ground attack on the year.

In crunch time, when the pressure was the highest, Florida State showed up, something ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit called an "unknown" prior to the game. The Seminoles held the Tigers scoreless for over 30 minutes of game-time, allowing the offense to claw its way back into the contest. The heat was on and this Florida State team, who was a question mark to some because they had not been forced to play a full 60 minutes, remained as cool as it has been all season.

Jimbo Fisher's team was mighty good all season long, and when the chips were down and it mattered the most, his team was solid, again. It took the 'Noles a little while to settle into the game, but in the end it was the Seminoles proving they were prepared, they were ready for the pressure and they could overcome the adversity.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs FSU: Jameis Winston Builds NFL Value with BCS Championship Performance

Jameis Winston isn't allowed to enter the 2014 NFL draft, and he is going to be hard-pressed to increase his NFL value any more than what it already is for the 2015 draft. 

The Heisman Trophy winner survived an abysmal first half to lead his Florida State Seminoles to a comeback, 34-31, victory in the BCS title game. 

It wasn't just any comeback either. It was the biggest comeback in the history of the BCS title game:

The Seminoles trailed 21-10 entering halftime, and their title chances looked bleak. The biggest reason for the dismal outlook was the play of Winston. The freshman quarterback had been nearly flawless all season, but he was erratic and sloppy in the first half. 

He finished the half by going 6-of-15 passing for 62 yards and no touchdowns. 

Facing a constant stream of pressure from Auburn's pass rush, Winston didn't get a lot better early in the second. Florida State's defense began to play better, though, which gave Winston and the offense a chance. 

Florida State battled and finally took the lead in the fourth quarter on a kickoff-return touchdown by Levonte Whitfield with 4:31 left to go in the game. That lead didn't last long. Auburn's Tre Mason went for a 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 left in the game. 

That set the stage for Winston, and he was phenomenal under the bright lights and intense pressure of leading a two-minute drill in the BCS title game. 

On the final drive, Winston went 6-of-7 passing for 77 yards and hit the lengthy Kelvin Benjamin with a perfectly placed high ball with just 13 seconds left. 

Not a bad birthday present for the quarterback who turned 20 on the day of the BCS title game: 

Winston finished the game going 20-of-35 for 237 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That was good for a quarterback rating of 132.9. That is his second-lowest rating of the season, so obviously, this was far from his most flawless game from start to finish. 

Don't tell Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher that: 

As we discussed, based solely on stats, this wasn't even close to Winston's best game. Also just going on a throw-by-throw basis, it was far from his best game. 

His accuracy was off early, and he was not going through his progressions. 

Entering the locker room at halftime and even well into the third quarter, it would've been easy to say this was Winston's worst game of the season, and that is exactly what made this performance so special. 

Winston shrugged off the struggles and remained undaunted as the leader of his football team, and soon, his play turned around. 

When the pressure was at its highest, the game seemed to slow down for Winston. Not only did his accuracy increase, but he was also doing a better job of going through his progressions and making the right read. 

This kind of ability to handle pressure and rise above the moment in the clutch is invaluable in quarterbacks. It is also difficult to gauge unless given a setting like this. 

It was really hard with Winston since Florida State went through the season undefeated and barely trailed or played a close game. 

This was the only question mark hanging over Winston heading into this game. The 6'4", 228-pound quarterback had demonstrated the arm strength, accuracy and mechanics that it takes to make it in the NFL, and now he has proven he will make plays when the game is on the line. 

Barring anything but a disastrous season, injury or off-the-field issues, I have no doubt Winston will be the No. 1 selection in the 2015 draft should he decide to go pro. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs FSU Highlights: Top Plays from BCS Title Game

It wasn't easy, but the Florida State Seminoles are the final BCS national champions. Behind a strong second-half effort, the 'Noles came back from an 18-point deficit to win a thriller, 34-31.

Bleacher Report was one of the first to bless the champs with an artful social media acknowledgement.

Florida State outscored the Auburn Tigers 24-10 in the second half and used a bevy of big plays to turn Gus Malzahn's group away. Winston validated his Heisman Trophy after a rough first half.

Here's his emotional postgame interview.

He completed 20 of his 35 passes for 237 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Rashad Greene had nine receptions and 147 yards receiving.

Winston's counterpart Nick Marshall played a decent game—sans a few mistakes. He had 275 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns. The game's other Heisman finalist, Tre Mason, ran for 195 yards and had two touchdowns.

Check out how Mason's day ranks when compared to entire teams that faced Florida State in 2013.

Here are the highlights from this epic game.

 

First Quarter

The Tigers missed an opportunity early in the first quarter. With the Seminoles hell bent on stopping the run game, Nick Marshall had a chance to put his team up 7-0. Instead he threw the ball short to Ricardo Louis. It turned out to be a 10-point swing as Florida State took the next possession down the field and converted a field goal.

Tre Mason and Auburn let it be known they were in Pasadena to win. The Heisman Trophy finalist caught this swing pass to give the Tigers a 7-3 lead.

As ESPN Stats notes, the Tigers put the Seminoles in rare air by jumping ahead early.

 

Second Quarter

Marshall gets a second chance to make a big play down the middle of the field. He hit Melvin Ray with this 50-yard touchdown strike. The score gave the Tigers a commanding 14-3 lead after the extra point.

Slowly, but surely, Marshall was making the Seminoles' defense respect him. Warchant.com points out how Marshall was outplaying Winston to this point.

Cody Parkey had a very makeable 33-yard field goal attempt that could have put the Tigers up 17-3, but he didn't hook it enough, and it also appeared to be short. These are the types of plays that teams look back on when they lose close games.

Things really looked bleak for the 'Noles late in the first half. Auburn was getting tons of pressure on Winston. On this play, the Heisman Trophy winner was forced to cough the ball up.

The blitz was clearly giving Winston problems. ESPN Stats breaks it down for us.

The Tigers recovered the fumble and it turned into this...

Marshall showed his elite speed to take it in from four yards out. Auburn had a huge 21-3 lead at this point.

On Florida State's final drive, it looked as if the Tigers had forced another Florida State punt. The Seminoles faked it and ran an end around that went for seven yards and a first down.

The fourth-down conversion led to this clumsy, but effective scramble from Winston. Florida State turned this into a big touchdown before the half. They went into the intermission down 21-10.

Clemson Tigers standout wide receiver Sammy Watkins is rolling with the ACC in this one. He cautions everyone to calm down.

 

Fourth Quarter

Florida State added a field goal in the third quarter to make the score 21-13.

In the final period, Marshall made one of his few really poor decisions in the game.

He threw this pass into double coverage and it was picked off by P.J. Williams. Williams fumbled the ball, but his teammate Lamarcus Joyner recovered it for Florida State. 

The pick led to this 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Abram. Florida State closed to 21-19 with the score.

After the touchdown pass, Devontae Freeman was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting the Tigers' sideline. It was a dumb move by Freeman, but a soft call considering the situation.

Nonetheless, the penalty made going for a two-point conversion and the tie more difficult. The 'Noles settled for the extra point and put the score at 21-20.

With star defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan gassed on the sideline, the 'Noles came up with a crucial third-down stand inside their own 10-yard line. It forced the Tigers to settle for the field goal to make the game 24-20 in favor of the Tigers.

The score set up this...

Levonte Whitfield took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the go-ahead score. All of a sudden, the Seminoles were up 27-24. Explosive.

With 4:31 left, things didn't look promising for the Tigers. After Marshall made a few solid throws, Tre La Soul had what looked a lot like a Heisman moment. He broke off this 37-yard touchdown run to make it 31-27.

Bleacher Report captures Mason striking a pose.

Brandon Marcello of the Mobile Press-Register tells us that Mason's scamper broke the great Bo Jackson's single-season rushing record.

Would it be a late-season Auburn game without a wild finish?

With just 1:19 remaining in the game, Winston was placed in a position to prove he deserved to be the Heisman winner. A 49-yard completion to Rashad Greene had Florida State in business.

This pass interference against Chris Davis put the ball on the 2-yard line.

Winston went to his go-to man Kelvin Benjamin in the red zone. The 6'5" stud that could double as a shooting guard gave the 'Noles a 33-31 lead. The extra point made it 34-31 and handed Florida State the national championship.

What a game.

 

All stats per ESPN.com

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BCS National Championship Game 2014: Most Memorable Photos from Auburn vs. FSU

The Florida State Seminoles sent the BCS out in style on Monday, Jan. 6, winning their first national championship in 14 years in a 34-31 come-from-behind victory over the Auburn Tigers.

Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston struggled throughout the first half, but made big plays when he had to down the stretch, completing the go-ahead touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining to conclude a stellar second half for the Seminoles, who trailed 21-3 with under two minutes to play in the first half. 

Winston would come away with game MVP honors. 

Meanwhile, Auburn's Tre Mason racked up 237 total yards and two total touchdowns in a losing effort.

Here we'll relive the best moments from the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.

Begin Slideshow

Jameis Winston Named MVP of 2014 BCS National Championship Game

In what was the perfect season for a college football quarterback, Jameis Winston was able to lead a game-winning drive to take the BCS National Championship and was named the MVP of the game in the Florida State Seminoles' 34-31 win over the Auburn Tigers.

When discussing the perfect season in college football, an undefeated season, a Heisman trophy and a national championship win come to mind.  Winston was able to do all of those things in 2013-14.

Despite being down 21-3 in the second quarter, the Seminoles were able to pull off an incredible comeback win.  Winston found Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning touchdown in the end zone.

That's not bad for a 20th birthday.

After the game, Winston had this to say about the big win according to Patrik Nohe from the Miami Herald and Bo Mattingly from Sports Talk With Bo.

Winston seriously struggled early in the game.  He missed a lot of easy throws, made some bad reads and even lost a fumble early on.  But the team rallied in the second half, and Winston was more comfortable in the pocket, making some better throws.

The final numbers were solid for Winston.  He completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns, with the final score with just 13 seconds remaining giving his team the national title.

But when looking at what he did for the entire season, it's safe to say that Winston had the perfect year.

Growing up as a fan of Vince Young, Mike Berrardino from the St. Paul Pioneer Press made a note connecting Winston with his idol.

For the year, Winston completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.  His strong numbers helped him win the Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp Award and Davey O'Brien Award.  He was also named the ACC Player of the Year and a consensus All-American among other awards and titles.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Auburn's Cam Newton and USC's Matt Leinart have been the only quarterbacks since 1950 to go undefeated, win the national title and win the Heisman Trophy in the same year.

As a redshirt freshman, Winston was able to do what few players have been able to do in their college careers in just a single season.  He'll be playing at least one more season at Florida State before having to make a decision about his future, but it's safe to say that Winston had one of the greatest seasons any college football player has ever had.

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College Football Final 2014 Rankings: B/R's Official Top 25

The SEC's BCS National Championship reign ended as the BCS era came to a close. The Florida State Seminoles closed out a perfect season with a pulse-pounding 34-31 win over the Auburn Tigers at the Rose Bowl. 

There's no debate about who is No. 1: It's the 'Noles.

But where did the Tigers land—and how far did the Alabama Crimson Tide fall after their Sugar Bowl defeat to Oklahoma?

Click on to see Bleacher Report's final Top 25 rankings for the 2013-14 season.

Poll voters: Chris Bello, Eric Bowman, Carter Bryant, Phil Callihan, Andrew Coppens, Bill Eichenberger, Michael Felder, Trenise Ferreira, Sean Frye, Kyle Kensing, Ben Kercheval, Sanjay KirpalaniAdam Kramer, David Luther, Max RauschDavid Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence, Greg Wallace.

Voting procedure: Each voter submitted his or her Top 25 poll and votes were totaled as such: 25 points for No. 1 vote, 24 points for No. 2 and so on.

Previous rankings from Bleacher Report's Week 16 Top 25.

Begin Slideshow

Arizona State Football: Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

The Arizona State football team had a very successful 2013 season, winning the Pac-12 South title and coming within one win of the Rose Bowl.

By most accounts, the season was a great success—until the final two games.

The Sun Devils were 60 minutes away from playing in the Granddaddy of Them All before the Stanford Cardinal pummeled them. Even with the bad 38-14 loss in the Pac-12 Championship game, fans were still excited to see their Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl.

That excitement quickly faded after kickoff, however, as the Texas Tech Red Raiders dominated ASU in the Holiday Bowl, and the Sun Devils ended up limping out of the season with two bad losses.

Those losses exposed some weaknesses for Arizona State and showed that there are a few major areas of concern for the Sun Devils heading into the offseason.

The Sun Devils need to prepare better for big games, help Taylor Kelly develop more as a passer and find out how to replace a lot of defensive playmakers this offseason if they want to repeat as Pac-12 South Champions.

 

Preparation for Big Games

Arizona State hasn't performed well when the lights are at their brightest recently.

The Sun Devils lost nationally televised games to Notre Dame, Stanford (twice) and Texas Tech this past season.

In three of those four games, analysts actually picked Arizona State to win.

Omitting the first meeting with the Stanford Cardinal, the Sun Devils should have won, or at least been competitive, in all of those games. Mental errors cost ASU against the Fighting Irish, but in the Pac-12 Championship game and Holiday Bowl the Sun Devils were just out coached.

Head coach Todd Graham and his staff didn't have their team prepared for those final two games, and it showed, as ASU lost by a combined score of 75-37.

SI.com writer Stewart Mandel also weighed in on ASU's inability to win the big one after the embarrassing loss to Texas Tech:

ASU did come up with a huge road win against UCLA at the end of the year to secure the Pac-12 South crown, but they almost choked that game away late.

This offseason, Graham and his staff need to work on getting their team prepared better for these big games. The Sun Devils came out flat on the road a lot in 2013, and when the spotlight was on the team it seemed to crumble.

For ASU to make the Rose Bowl next year, that can't happen.

 

Development of Quarterback Taylor Kelly

At the start of the season, Kelly looked like a young Jake Plummer.

He started the year throwing for 300 yards or more in the Sun Devils' first five games. After that, though, his numbers decreased significantly.

Kelly did not pass 200 yards four times in the Sun Devils' last six games.

Near the very end of the year when the pressure was on, Kelly really crumbled. He became gun-shy and didn't seem confident in his arm or decision-making.

This really showed in the Holiday Bowl, where the Sun Devils threw for a season low of 125 yards.

This offseason, Kelly needs to become confident in his game.

The Sun Devils will return some key playmakers on offense next year, and with Kelly in his senior season, they should put up big offensive numbers again.

For that to happen, Kelly needs to develop his ability to read defenses and have confidence in his game.

 

Replacing Key Defensive Starters

Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor, Chris Young, Davon Coleman, Gannon Conway and Robert Nelson are just some of the defensive playmakers Arizona State will lose this offseason.

ASU's defense came on late in the year, led by this senior group, and helped the Sun Devils go to the Pac-12 title game.

Next year, not only will the Sun Devils have to replace all of this talent, they will also have to replace the leadership.

Sutton has been the poster boy of Sun Devil football the past two seasons and has become one of the biggest emotional leaders on the team. Darby and Irabor were the leaders of the secondary, and Young led the team with 112 total tackles last year.

This is one of those situations where really none of these guys can be replaced, so the Sun Devils will need next year's defense to play as a cohesive unit to make up for the loss of all this individual talent.

This offseason, Arizona State will need to figure out not only who will take over these starting roles, but who will become the leaders on the team.

While losing all this talent is tough, losing the leadership is even tougher.

 

Stats and information from cfbstats.com unless otherwise indicated.

Robby Baker is a B/R Featured Columnist. You can find his B/R archive here and follow him on Twitter @Robby__Baker.

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Arizona State Football: Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

The Arizona State football team had a very successful 2013 season, winning the Pac -12 South title and coming within one win of the Rose Bowl. By most accounts, the season was a great success—until the final two games...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Auburn vs. FSU: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 BCS Championship

The BCS saved its best for last.

No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn went back and forth with two lead changes in the final 1:20 of the last championship game of the BCS era, but it was Heisman winner Jameis Winston who scored in the end, as the Seminoles escaped Pasadena with a thrilling 34-31 victory.

Fellow Heisman finalist Tre Mason finished with 195 yards on 34 carries—his last a 37-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 31-27 lead with 1:19 remaining—but Winston responded with a national championship-winning 80-yard drive, finding Kelvin Benjamin for the decisive score:

Winston, who helped FSU back from an early 18-point deficit, finished with 237 yards passing and two scores. He was named MVP of the game for his efforts. After a memorable performance, he gave an equally memorable interview, via Patrik Nohe of the Miami Herald and Bo Mattingly:

Following the game, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press noted an interesting fact:

The first 25 minutes belonged to Auburn. 

Florida State got an early stop and then went 59 yards to set up a field goal and a 3-0 lead, but its next four possessions gained just 28 total yards, with the last ending on a Winston fumble. 

As Auburn's defense continued to frustrate a seemingly overwhelmed Seminoles squad, its offense was equally successful. Head coach Gus Malzahn orchestrated the perfect gameplan to keep the 'Noles defense off balance, and seemingly every time FSU brought pressure, Nick Marshall and the Tigers burned them. 

Five of Auburn's first six drives went into FSU territory. One ended on a missed field goal, but three were capped by touchdowns, including this sprint to the outside by Marshall to make it 21-3 with five minutes to go in the half:

Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel summed up the start:

A fake punt on fourth-and-four on the next drive injected energy into Winston and the 'Noles, and they immediately went 66 yards on 11 plays to cut the lead to 21-10 heading into the locker room. 

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Tigers, who entered the game as a double-digit underdog, were suddenly a massive favorite:

Both defenses continued to shine in the third quarter. Florida State's Timmy Jernigan and Auburn's Dee Ford took turns terrorizing opposing offensive linemen, and Seminoles kicker Robert Aguayo's 41-yard field goal served as the only scoring of the quarter.

After Marshall threw an interception early in the fourth, FSU once again fed off the big play, going 56 yards on five plays for the touchdown. Down by two, a questionable unsportsmanlike penalty call on Devonta Freeman forced the Seminoles to kick the extra point rather than attempt a 2-point conversion, and they remained behind, 21-20. 

CBS Sports' Will Brinson examined the call:

Auburn's offense, which had been quiet for most of the half, responded with a time-chewing possession, eventually getting a short field goal with just 4:42 remaining. 

The Tigers' four-point lead proved to be short-lived, as Levonte Whitfield took the ensuing kickoff and flew down the sideline, going end zone to end zone to give the Seminoles the lead:

The fireworks were hardly over, though. 

Auburn immediately went 75 yards and Mason appeared to give the Tigers their final miracle of the destiny-dubbed 2013 season, but the freshman Winston responded with a game-winning drive that will never be forgotten. 

 

Player Grades

Nick Marshall, Auburn: B+

Seeing coverage like this from the secondary tends to make things a little bit easier:

Other than that 50-yard touchdown toss, Marshall was fairly up-and-down as a thrower. He made some really nice, accurate throws early but he struggled a bit once Florida State's defense started to bare down. He also threw a costly fourth-quarter interception. 

In the run game, though, Marshall proved to be dangerous, getting to the edge several times and eating up chunks of yardage. When he was running the ball, FSU was kept at bay and Auburn's offense moved much better. 

 

Jameis Winston, Florida State: A

CBS Sports' Dane Brugler summed up Winston's start:

The Heisman winner seemed discombobulated early on, making inaccurate throws and not showing great pocket presence—either taking sacks or tucking the ball too early, as he did on his fumble. 

Things eventually slowed down for Winston, however, as he got into a better rhythm and was able to start connecting on throws and move the ball with consistency, eventually orchestrating the game-winning touchdown drive.

It was an uneven start for Winston, but no one will remember that. What a way to cap a perfect season. 

 

Tre Mason, Auburn: A

The Seminoles had no answers for Mason. Part of his success was a product of Malzahn's playcalling that opened him up in space, but part of it was also the result of his quickness and agility that got him into that space. 

Mason slalomed through the Seminoles defense with video-game-like cuts on several different occasions, including this one on a 12-yard touchdown reception:

He showed a little bit of power, too, as evidenced on his bone-crushing touchdown run in the final minutes. There was nothing more that Mason could have done. 

 

Timmy Jernigan, Florida State: A

The junior defensive tackle unequivocally saw his draft stock rise on Monday night, as he shed blocks and stuffed running lanes whenever Auburn tried to run inside. He also created penetration when Marshall dropped back to pass.

His ability to cause trouble in both the running and passing game was impressive, and both Bleacher Report's Matt Miller and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah offered their praises of the big man:

Auburn just couldn't handle the dynamic and talented Jernigan. If he starts putting everything together for long stretches like he did on Monday, he's going to be a high-impact player in the NFL.

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Jameis Winston Throws Game-Winning TD with 13 Seconds Left to Win BCS Title

With 79 seconds remaining in the BCS National Championship Game, Auburn took a 31-27 lead over Florida State. The Seminoles needed a touchdown, and they got one.

Quarterback Jameis Winston led an 80-yard drive, which was capped off by a two-yard touchdown catch by Kelvin Benjamin. 

The 6'5" receiver was able to use his size to go up and get Winston's pass for the lead.

The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was clutch on the final drive, via ESPN's SportsCenter:

Jameis Winston was 6-7 for 77 yards on the go-ahead drive. #Clutch

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 7, 2014

Winston's game-winning touchdown pass gave the Seminoles a 34-31 lead over the Tigers with only 13 seconds to play. Florida State outscored Auburn 21-10 in the fourth quarter.

Auburn was unable to pull off one more miracle. Florida State's defense held on the ensuing drive to give the Seminoles their first national championship since 1999.

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, January 6, 2014

Fact: Florida State's 18-point comeback is the largest ever in a BCS title game. The previous record was 12 by Texas in 2006. Final score: Florida State 34, Auburn 31. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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7 Teams Who Will Ride Bowl Season Momentum into Huge 2014 Campaigns

Though all but one of this season’s bowls were meaningless, the 17 teams that came out on top in the non-title contests have eight months to bask in the glory of a win.

And that’s a better fate than 240 days with the bitter taste of defeat in your mouth. In other words, it’s something to build on rather than something to try and forget.

Of this year’s postseason winners, a handful are in position to parlay their strong finish in 2013 into a historic 2014.

 

Statistics courtesy of College Football Statistics, College Football Data Warehouse, Phil Steele and Sports Reference/College Football.  Recruiting data courtesy of Rivals.

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Odds on Who Will Win National Championship Next Year

Florida State beat Auburn to win the 2014 BCS National Championship. Let's take a look at the odds on who will win the first College Football Playoff next year. 

Jameis Winston led Florida State to a national title and won the Heisman this season. Does Winston's return make the Seminoles favorites to repeat next season? Alabama was the preseason favorite to win this year's championship. Where does the Crimson Tide fall in this year's list of favorites?

Watch Adam Kramer give the odds on who will win the national championship next season. 

 

Highlights courtesy of XOS Digital

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, January 6, 2014

Fact: Florida State receiver Levonte Whitfield's 100-yard kick return was the third in BCS Bowl history. Andre Debose's 2012 Sugar Bowl return and C.J. Jones' in the 2003 Orange Bowl are the others. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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Kermit Whitfield's 100-Yard Kickoff Return Gives Florida State Late Lead

The Florida State Seminoles are using special teams to their advantage in the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn.

A 100-yard kickoff return by Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield gave Florida State its first lead since it was a 3-0 game in the first quarter.

Coach Jimbo Fisher ran down the sideline to follow the kickoff return:

The touchdown gave the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with just over four minutes remaining in the title game, but Auburn would answer back to take the lead with just over a minute to play.

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, January 6, 2014

Fact: Auburn is 9-0 this season when leading after three quarters. The Tigers are up 21-13 on Florida State heading into the fourth quarter during the BCS National Championship Game. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: @RoseBowlGame

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Texas Football: Texas Can't Expect Charlie Strong to Be the Next Mack Brown

Charlie Strong took to the microphone on Monday for his first press conference as head coach of the Texas Longhorns.

The former Louisville head coach discussed his goals for the program and how he plans to build it back up to the national stage. He even touched on what it was like to take over for Mack Brown. Strong was genuine, affable and firm in his commitment to the 'Horns.

Whether you watched all 41 minutes of Strong's morning with the media or Burnt Orange Nation's highlight video, one thing is obvious.

Charlie Strong is no Mack Brown.

Even though he says all the right things, Strong is clearly out of his comfort zone. He stumbles through his first public appearance, seemingly counting the seconds until he can get out of there. He even admitted to the crowd, "I was just hoping that I brought this cold weather with me and that it would have blocked some of these media coming here today."

Now contrast that to the man who coined, "Come early, be loud, stay late, wear orange." Brown comes off as an old friend shootin' the breeze with you in his living room. That was his world, and he owned it even through the dark times.

And Texas has to be OK with that.

Because Strong's value will go way beyond how he presents himself and the program to the world. Expecting him to be the next Brown just isn't reasonable.

First of all, Strong truly wants to be at Texas. Faced with a question about not being Texas' first choice, he simply replied, "I could have been the 15th choice and would still be so happy to be the head football coach here."

Good luck getting an answer like that out of Nick Saban or Jon Gruden.

Billionaire donor Red McCombs may abhor the fact that Strong isn't a marquee name. The boosters, who have rewarded Brown's friendship with the utmost support, will have a lot to get used to. The Longhorn Network has to adjust its programming schedule.

But the move to a coach like Strong is exactly what Texas needs. He is all about the game, stating early in his press conference, "I was told I'm a football coach first." Later, he delved into his recruiting plan: "We will close the borders and make sure Austin is the state capital of college football."

This is talk that the two-time national champion can back up. He coached eight All-Americans as a defensive coordinator at Florida, and he turned former quarterback Marcus Smith into a first-team All-American defensive end at Louisville. Not to mention the Cardinals' 23-3 record over the past two years.

Once Strong begins to put his stamp on the program, the higher-ups will overlook the skipped promotional shoots and see the behind-the-scenes coach as the worker he is. Moreover, they will see him as the cure for what has ailed the program over the past four years.

Charlie Strong is just not the next Mack Brown. He's not the president of the American Football Coaches Association, and he probably won't be offered a job as a TV personality.

Strong will, however, be the man behind the turnaround at Texas.

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, January 6, 2014

Fact: With a 21-10 halftime lead over Florida State, Auburn's win probability is 82 percent. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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