Dec. 24, 2013
It is widely accepted that Florida State redshirt freshman Jameis Winston is the top quarterback in college football, and I wouldn’t argue with that. He had a phenomenal year and was deserving of the Heisman Trophy.
But has there been a quarterback more valuable to his team than Auburn’s Nick Marshall? You’d be hard-pressed to find one. Lots of people have contributed to Auburn’s historic rebound from a 3-9 record in 2012. I don’t know that I’ve ever witnessed a better coaching job than that done by first-year head coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn staff.
Auburn, I believe, would have been a good team if Marshall had not come to town last summer. But without him, Auburn would not have been great, would not have won the Southeastern Conference championship and would not be playing Florida State in the BCS Championship Game.
Marshall’s magician-like ball-handling, combined with his speed and elusiveness, has made Auburn’s zone read all but impossible to stop and has contributed mightily to tailback Tre Mason being a Heisman Trophy finalist. But that’s only part of the equation.
You don’t want to give Marshall the ball with the game on the line. He’ll beat your rear end. The pressure of the moment only makes him better.
Marshall led an 88-yard drive and threw the winning touchdown pass against Mississippi State with 11 seconds left. Then there was a 75-yard drive to the winning touchdown with 1:19 left at Texas A&M, a 73-yard heave that became the winning touchdown against Georgia and a 39-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds to the tying touchdown against Alabama.
When two turnovers gave Missouri early momentum, Marshall shrugged it off and put the Auburn running game in overdrive.
Marshall’s teammates believed in him from the early days of preseason practice. They believe in him now more than ever.
Can Auburn shut down Winston, who has thrown for almost 4,000 yards and has thrown four touchdown passes? Not a chance. Can Florida State shut down Marshall, who has become the best running quarterback in the country and a clutch passer? Nope.
It’s going to be fun to watch.
Marshall is soft-spoken, almost shy when talking to reporters. His teammates say he is neither of those things in the locker room. He is not only an amazingly gifted football player, he is a leader who works hard every day to get even better.
It’s unique that both teams playing for the national championship will have first-year quarterbacks. We don’t know how either will react. We do know that Marshall has been oblivious to the pressure even in the biggest moments. Winston hasn’t faced those situations. Other than in a 48-34 victory at Boston College in the season's fourth game, Florida State hasn't won by fewer than 27 points.
The Seminoles’ schedule has been, putting it kindly, less than challenging. But maybe they are just that good. We won’t know until the night of Jan. 6.
Regardless of what happens at the Rose Bowl, whether Auburn wins its second national championship in four years or Florida State wins a close game or beats Auburn like its beaten everybody else, Marshall will have done more than anyone could have imagined when he arrived last summer.
He made believers of a team full of players he’d never met, and together they resurrected Auburn football.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: