BCS National Championship Game 2014: Potential Unsung Heroes to Watch for
With the 2014 BCS National Championship Game only hours away, the anticipation for what should be a hard-fought battle between the Florida State Seminoles and Auburn Tigers is at a peak.
Florida State will look to dominate the ball through the air with 2013 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, while Auburn will counter with the nation’s most explosive rushing attack led by quarterback Nick Marshall and running back Tre Mason.
Points are expected to be in abundance, and punts should be at a premium.
But those are the players everyone is talking about. What about the lesser-known playmakers that could make an impact in the BCS’ final national championship matchup?
Join B/R as we take a look at five potential unsung heroes from tonight’s game.
TE Nick O'Leary (Florida State)
When talking about the Seminoles' high-powered passing attack, the main talking points are typically quarterback Jameis Winston and the receiving trio of wide receivers Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw.
But few people ever talk about tight end Nick O’Leary.
Through 13 games, the junior has 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns.
Although he hasn’t caught a touchdown pass in three games, O’Leary has the potential to make the big grabs, including a five-catch, 161-yard performance against Clemson earlier this season—one that featured a 94-yard reception.
Not to mention, O’Leary has also been invaluable in the blocking game for Florida State.
Without O’Leary’s poise and ability to pick up the pass rush, Winston most likely wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the amount of success he has had in 2013.
With the Tigers expected to pay close attention to Greene, Benjamin and Shaw, look for O’Leary to emerge as Winston’s safety net.
WR Sammie Coates (Auburn)
It’s easy to become mesmerized with the Tigers' rushing attack. The unit tops the nation, averaging 335.7 yards per game.
But that doesn’t mean that Auburn has no threat in the passing attack.
In fact, wide receiver Sammie Coates could be considered one of the most underrated playmakers going into Monday’s BCS Championship Game.
This season, the sophomore caught 38 passes for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. His four 100-yard receiving games don’t look too impressive, but Coates saved his best for the big games, hauling in touchdown grabs against Missouri, Alabama and Texas A&M.
With the Seminoles likely to zero in on stopping the run, Auburn will probably be forced to pass.
When that happens, look for Coates to be the go-to guy for quarterback Nick Marshall.
WR Levonte Whitfield (Florida State)
In a matchup that is more evenly matched than most people think, the special teams from both sides will play a big role in this game.
For the Seminoles, that burst of explosiveness should come from wide receiver and kick return specialist Levonte Whitfield.
A freshman, Whitfield has seen limited playing time, appearing in just six games this season.
However, in that short time, the Orlando, Fla. native has showcased his potential, catching five passes for 89 yards while rushing for another 110 yards and two touchdowns on just three carries.
Furthermore, Whitfield has been dangerous on kick returns, taking back 13 kickoffs for 447 yards and a touchdown. In fact, his 34.4 yards per return rank No. 1 among players who have returned at least 10 kickoffs.
With both teams expected to trade points back and forth, that will give plenty of opportunities for Whitfield to make a difference.
More than likely, the young speedster will capitalize, giving Florida State the edge in field position time and time again.
CB Chris Davis (Auburn)
On the other hand, expect the Tigers to counter on special teams with Iron Bowl hero, cornerback Chris Davis.
The team’s defensive captain, Davis has been instrumental to Auburn’s defense. The senior has recorded a team-high 69 tackles (2.5 for loss), broken up 13 passes and forced a fumble.
But what Davis will always be remembered for is his 109-yard return of a missed field goal for a touchdown as time expired to upset Alabama, 34-28—he also recorded 10 tackles in that game.
Davis has also been successful in the punt return game this season. He has returned 14 punts for 282 yards and a touchdown, averaging 20.14 yards per return.
The presence of Davis will certainly make the Seminoles think twice about punting the ball, let alone attempting a long field goal.
K Roberto Aguayo (Florida State)
Before you laugh, bring up memories of wide rights and wide lefts of years past and consider this: Roberto Aguayo is no ordinary kicker.
The freshman has been extraordinary in 2013, knocking in all 90 PATs and nailing 19-of-20 field goals attempted. That includes an impressive mark of 8-of-9 from 40 yards or longer.
Furthermore, 42 of Aguayo’s 113 kickoffs went as touchbacks.
So it was no surprise that he took home the Lou Groza Award, recognizing college football’s best kicker.
Then again, given the large margin of victories that the Seminoles enjoyed this season, Aguayo has rarely had to make a field goal in a high-pressure situation. In fact, the closest a team ever came to beating Florida State was 14 points (Boston College).
Did we mention that Aguayo is also just a redshirt freshman?
With that said, there’s a good chance Aguayo will have to make one or two of those pressure kicks in what should be a close game against the Tigers.
But unlike those kickers from years ago, don’t expect Aguayo to be anything but money.
Preview and Predictions
In the video above, B/R lead writers Barrett Sallee, Michael Felder and Adam Kramer sit down to preview tonight’s game and what will transpire over the course of 60 minutes.
All in all, tonight's matchup is shaping up to be one of the best BCS title matchups in quite some time.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.