The warm sports bars and cold streets of Atlanta were already full of screaming, hugging, euphoric Auburn fans, just beginning the jubilation that lasted well into the night after the SEC Championship Game win over Missouri. Thousands of Tiger fans from Alabama were heading west and south on I-20 and I-85, orange and blue flags flapping in the wind. And at Toomer’s Corner in downtown Auburn, for the third time in 22 days, a celebration was underway that left the fabled intersection looking like a winter blizzard.
At that same time, in two cities hundreds of miles away, Auburn’s postseason bowl fate was being decided.
In Charlotte, Florida State, the nation’s top ranked team, was taking care of business, steamrolling Duke, 45-7. The Blue Devils … college football’s 2013 feel-good story, if not for Auburn … was no match for the Seminoles. Score one for Domination.
In Indianapolis, Michigan State, the nation’s best defensive team, put the clamps on Ohio State, the team with the nation’s longest winning streak. Urban Meyer, a head coach with two BCS championships of his own, suffered his first loss in scarlet and grey, sending Auburn, perhaps the most unlikely contender in BCS history, to Pasadena for its second national title game in four years. Score one for Destiny.
Early on in the season, this was not the match-up that college football followers around the country were wanting, and television talking-heads were promoting. At the end of the season, it is the match-up that everyone in the country deserves. It’s the two best teams, with two of the most overwhelming offenses, teams with a long-time history against each other, located just 195 miles apart, traveling more than 2,000 miles to determine the winner of the game’s biggest prize. Score one for college football fans everywhere.
No team has ever dominated its opponents like Florida State has done this year. Led by multi-talented freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, the Seminoles completed the season without being threatened in even one game. Just once, against Boston College in late September, did a team stay within 14 points. The ACC Championship Game was the 12th win by at least 27 points. And, the 43-point average victory margin is comfortably ahead of the previous mark set by the 2005 Texas Longhorns national championship team.
Few teams have ever seemed more destined for a championship than Auburn in 2013. How unlikely was this Tigers season? Consider this – in preseason voting for the USA Today Coaches poll, which is one of the components of the BCS rankings, Tulsa, Kent State, Toledo, Arkansas State and Ohio (not the Buckeyes) all got votes. Auburn got zero.
And, even though their record was 9-1 after the 32-point blowout in Knoxville, there were still doubters. First, came the Immaculate Deflection at Jordan-Hare to end the Georgia game. That one seemed destined. Then, there was the Chris Davis touchdown return of the missed 57-yard field goal attempt to defeat Alabama. That one was superior coaching strategy and execution. And, then there was the Missouri game in Atlanta. That one was to erase any lingering doubt.
This match-up will have more subplots than a television soap opera marathon.
Jimbo Fisher – The Seminole head coach played quarterback at Samford in Birmingham, where he started his coaching career. He was quarterback coach at Auburn for six years and was later considered for the Auburn coaching vacancy. He interviewed for the head coaching job at UAB and was offered a position on Nick Saban’s staff in Tuscaloosa.
Dameyune Craig – Last season the former Auburn quarterback was recruiting coordinator for Fisher in Tallahassee. This season, he is Fisher’s adversary in Auburn. On Saturday night in the Georgia Dome, he was on the same field where he led the Tigers to the SEC Championship Game against Tennessee in 1997.
Jameis Winston – The Hueytown (Ala.) native will try to deny his home state team its second national title in four years. It was also a rangy, dual threat first-year quarterback that led Auburn to the 2010 championship.
Ricardo Louis – The sophomore wide receiver from the Sunshine State caught the miracle pass from Nick Marshall to win the Georgia game. As a high school senior, he first committed to Auburn before switching to Florida State. He then unexpectedly signed with the Tigers at the last minute. What if he hadn’t switched the second time?
The Heisman race – It’s this year’s winner vs. next year’s early favorite. The season-long frontrunner vs. the late season dark horse. The consistent field general vs. college football’s hottest name in the last half of the season. Winston chose Tallahassee where he could be a two-sport star (football, baseball). What if Alabama or Auburn had recruited him that way?
If Winston wins the coveted award, he would become the second Seminole two-sport star to claim the Heisman (Charlie Ward in 1993, football, basketball, played with the New York Knicks, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets). Florida State would join Auburn on the short list of teams with three Heisman winners.
In the four weeks until the championship game is played, there will be plenty of time to compare the players and dissect the teams. Can Auburn’s porous pass defense slow down the Seminoles record-setting offense? Can Florida State find a way to stop the Tigers’ devastating ground game? Does it matter that Florida State’s schedule has been so much weaker than Auburn’s? Will the Tigers do a better job protecting the ball than they did against Missouri?
What will happen when Domination meets Destiny?
Seldom has a BCS Championship Game promised to be so entertaining. This time, in its final year of existence, the BCS system got it right.
Score one for college football fans everywhere.