- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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Red Smith, the poet laureate of sweat, once wrote that 90 feet between bases is the nearest to perfection that man has yet achieved. The basepath has nothing on the length of college football's regular season, which, with the patience of a kindergarten teacher and the tenacity of Scotland Yard, identified Florida State and Auburn as the two best teams to play for the BCS National Championship.
Tenacity is the lifeblood of a sport that demands physical and mental exertion for 60 minutes. Patience, not so much. Patience in college football is attributed to tailbacks who wait for a hole to appear. But in a sport in which a quarterback may have three seconds to complete a pass without getting his slobber knocked, patience often goes untapped.
Yet patience has never been more important than it has been in 2013, and not just because it was nearly midnight on the final Saturday of the regular season before Michigan State proved that Ohio State didn't have the credentials to play for the crystal football. In a season made predictable only by its unpredictability, patience became the coin of the realm.
Patience rewarded no fans more than at Auburn. It didn't take any patience to appreciate the rapid rise of the Tigers from 3-9 in 2012 to 12-1 this year. But the way that the Tigers waited until the very end to upend Georgia on a Hail Mary tipped pass and defeat archrival No. 1 Alabama on a 109-yard field goal return for a touchdown, focused upon the power of faith no matter what reality promised.
Patience proved critical at Florida State, not because head coach Jimbo Fisher decided to start a redshirt freshman at quarterback. Jameis Winston played with poise and the acumen of an upperclassman as the Seminoles cruised to a 13-0 record (12 wins by at least 27 points). But Florida State fans had to hold their collective garnet-and-gold breath for several weeks before local authorities decided not to charge Winston in a sexual assault case.
Patience paid off at Missouri, which had endured a 5-7, injury-filled debut in the SEC in 2012. Coach Gary Pinkel revamped his training and practice methods, and took advantage of the depth that resulted from playing so many players in 2012. The Tigers won the SEC East and finished 11-2 this season.
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7hSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
2dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney