NCF Nation: bcs championship 2013

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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The Heisman Trophy winner got the boot.

In one of the final practices leading up to the Vizio BCS National Championship, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher kicked quarterback Jameis Winston out of practice during a two-minute drill.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams and Jimbo Fisher
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher says his Seminoles will need to keep their edge if they want to compete for another national title in 2014.
Really? Tossed the Heisman winner?

Fisher chuckled.

“Yes, I did,” he said. “I sent him to the locker room.”

Fisher said he didn’t like Winston’s mindset in that particular situation and wanted to teach Winston that the moment wasn’t about him winning the game alone. A two-minute drill is about using the players around him and being wary of the clock.

“[The clock is] No. 1, the opponent is No. 2, and the mindset you have to have going in, which he had all year,” Fisher said, “I just saw it drifting.”

What a timely lesson to be learned.

In the final two minutes of a 34-31 win over Auburn on Monday night, Winston drove the Noles 80 yards in seven plays, using the elite talent he had around him and capping the game-winning drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds to spare.

The national champs are still young. They’re still learning -- and that includes the best player in the country, who celebrated his 20th birthday with a national title. Winston is not going anywhere next season.

Don’t expect the program to either.

“I think it’s going to look very similar to who you’re seeing right now,” Fisher said. “I think there may be one or two [players] I’ve got to have serious conversations with, but … this is an extremely young football team.”

Despite a roster oozing with NFL talent and the draft looming this spring, Fisher didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned about the possibility of losing many players early. He said there are only three seniors on offense and “maybe one” player who might leave early. He said “maybe three guys max” on defense might leave.

“Those guys are having a good time here, and we have some great young players coming in behind those guys,” he said. “So I think this team will look very, very similar to the one you just saw.”

Florida State’s biggest challenge will not be the 2014 NFL draft. It will be avoiding complacency -- a hurdle Fisher's mentor has mastered at Alabama.

In the few hours following Fisher’s first national title as a head coach, he shared some private conversations with good friend and Alabama coach Nick Saban. Saban’s wife, Terry, called Fisher on Tuesday morning, and Saban and Fisher joked about being “a couple of old hillbillies from those coal mines that came on and became football coaches.”

Much like Winston, Fisher said he learned a few lessons along the way too. He remembered how “back in the '80s,” when he was a graduate assistant, he would sit around at the Bowden Academy and soak up every word the coaches had to say while sitting around the pool at night. He talked about how Bobby Bowden influenced him and helped him by stepping away from the program for a bit and giving him the freedom to develop the program his own way. Fisher also talked about the lessons he learned from Saban when he left LSU in 2004.

“You’ve got to go back to ground zero, and you can’t worry about expectations,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to play it. … But I think that’s the thing: Once expectations get so high, is to not let complacency set in.

“You can’t lose that edge,” he added. “If you ever lose that edge, that chip on your shoulder, you’re just another team. I don’t care how talented you are. This team has to go back, get its own identity, get its own leadership and develop that, and that’s going to be our challenge now. It’s how hungry can you stay to be able to do it over and over again.”

It’s a lesson Fisher is more than willing to pass on.

Video: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

January, 7, 2014
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ACC reporter Heather Dinich talks with Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin following the Seminoles' 34-31 victory in the Vizio BCS National Championship.
In a game as good as Monday’s Vizio BCS National Championship, there are countless storylines to dissect in the aftermath. And as Florida State soaks in its third national championship, we’re only beginning to fully appreciate the effort it took for the Seminoles to get here. So while the celebration in Tallahassee continues, here’s a brief look at some of the most underrated storylines from FSU’s absurd 34-31 win over Auburn.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State RB Devonta Freeman became the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Seminoles since 1996.
Quest for 1,000, Part I: It was an otherwise uninteresting 4-yard rumble on first down late in the third quarter, but it was one of the most statistically significant rushes in Florida State history. The run put Devonta Freeman at exactly 1,000 yards for the season, making him the first FSU back to reach that mark since Warrick Dunn in 1996 and ending the longest active 1,000-yard rusher drought in college football. Freeman finished the season with 1,016 yards and 14 touchdowns. More importantly, he was a crucial part of the offense when Jameis Winston struggled early Monday, finishing with 94 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

Quest for 1,000, Part II: Freeman’s 1,000th yard came late. Rashad Greene's came early. The junior wide receiver cracked the mark with the second of his nine catches in the title game, finishing the season with 1,128 receiving yards. He’s the first FSU receiver to crack 1,000 since Anquan Boldin did it in 2002. Greene’s impact Monday was huge. He was the only FSU receiver to catch a pass for positive yardage in the first half, and he was responsible for 40 percent of Winston’s targets in the game. Most significant: He had 57 yards on two catches on the winning drive.

Quest for 1,000, Part III: And if Freeman and Greene weren’t enough, sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin became the third FSU player to join the 1,000-yard club with his penultimate grab, a crucial 21-yard catch early in the fourth quarter that set up Florida State’s second touchdown. Benjamin ends the season with 1,011 yards. It was a frustrating game at times for Benjamin, who was shut out in the first half and had two crucial second-half drops that ended drives. His final two catches, however, were essential, including the winning touchdown grab.

Special teams was big: Kermit Whitfield's kick return for a score was obviously a turning point in the game, but it was hardly the only crucial play on special teams. The first half, in many ways, was defined by two momentum-shifting punts. The first, by Auburn’s Steven Clark, pinned FSU at its own 2-yard line. Cason Beatty's punt on the ensuing drive netted just 22 yards, and Auburn scored easily to take a 7-3 lead. Tack on three lucky saves in a row for Auburn after muffed punts, the 15-yard penalty that kept FSU from going for two early in the fourth quarter and, perhaps most significant, a missed 33-yard field goal by Auburn's Cody Parkey early in the second quarter and special teams swung the momentum of the game in either direction again and again. As for Whitfield, the true freshman touched the ball just 25 times in 2013 but racked up 818 yards and four touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception led to a touchdown that pulled the Seminoles within one point.
FSU’s young stars: The three biggest plays in the game for Florida State came from Winston (game-winning TD drive), P.J. Williams (game-saving interception) and Whitfield (game-changing kick return). That trio’s total accomplishments prior to this season: 14 tackles by Williams, largely on special teams. In other words, this veteran team that Jimbo Fisher has been slowly building for years won the national title in large part because of the contributions of three players who’d barely seen the field before the start of 2013. That’s a good sign for 2014 at Florida State, too.

Pruitt’s big adjustment: To open the game, FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought pressure on Nick Marshall often, and it wasn’t entirely successful. The Tigers’ QB burned the Seminoles deep on several big plays. But Pruitt adjusted, was more conservative down the stretch, and it worked. Marshall was just 7-of-17 passing with an interception when Florida State brought four or fewer pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Jernigan’s impact: The stat sheet shows just nine tackles, but anyone who watched Monday’s game knows Timmy Jernigan meant so much more for Florida State’s defense. He was a beast up the middle, shutting down Auburn’s vaunted run game for long stretches and offering next to nothing between the tackles. He clogged gaps and allowed linebacker Telvin Smith to step up and record a game-high 15 tackles. He flushed Marshall out of the pocket repeatedly. Of course, Jernigan was also completely gassed by the end, relegated to the sideline for much of Auburn’s final two scoring drives, and the Tigers’ success without Jernigan in the game was the ultimate proof of what an impact FSU’s under-the-radar defensive tackle actually made.

Winston’s rebound: There were two resounding narratives regarding Florida State entering the game. The first was that Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, would have a field day against an overmatched Auburn secondary. The second was that the untested Seminoles wouldn’t know how to handle a close game in the fourth quarter. It just goes to show that the pregame predictions often don’t amount to much. Winston’s unwavering confidence this season -- particularly on the prime-time stage -- has been Florida State’s hallmark. The “do it big” speech has been played again and again, but Winston was hardly that guy during the first three quarters Monday. His footwork was a mess. He was off target on throws. He was hesitant to release the ball, choosing again and again to tuck and run. He rarely looked downfield in spite of those supposed mismatches for his receiving corps. And yet, when the game was on the line, the QB who’d thrown just 25 fourth-quarter passes all season rebounded by completing 9 of 11 for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the game’s final quarter.

It really was about his teammates: If there was a mantra Winston stuck to this season throughout all the highs and lows, it was that the season -- and his success -- was built on the backs of his teammates. Monday’s national championship proved him right. While Winston struggled early, so many others stepped up. Freeman moved the ball on the ground. Greene provided a reliable target. Fisher called a brilliant fake punt that Karlos Williams managed to execute perfectly. Whitfield returned a kick for a score. The defense held Auburn scoreless on five straight drives -- forcing a turnover along the way -- while Winston slowly chipped away at a 21-3 deficit. Yes, it was the Heisman winner who delivered the winning drive with 1:19 to play, but it was Greene’s spectacular run after a catch and Benjamin’s unparalleled ability to go up for a ball in the end zone that made the difference. For Florida State, 2013 really was about team, no matter how good (or, in Monday’s case, shaky) Winston was along the way.

Video: FSU's Shaw says title team effort

January, 7, 2014
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Florida State's Kenny Shaw says the Seminoles' national championship is something to savor because it was a total team effort.

Video: Florida State LB Christian Jones

January, 7, 2014
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Christian Jones and his teammates have Florida State back on top of the college football world.

Video: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman

January, 7, 2014
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Florida State's Devonta Freeman talks about the toughness displayed in the VIZIO BCS National Championship that saw neither team back down.

Video: Pruitt on the Noles' adjustments

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt talks about the adjustments the Seminoles made in the second half against Auburn that helped FSU not only get back in the game but eventually win the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

A big thanks for the BCS

January, 7, 2014
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Nobody has made more fun of the BCS than me. I've mocked it. Insulted it. Said it was so screwed up that it sees a therapist twice a week.

So I only have one thing to say to the BCS after Monday evening's national title game:

Thank you.

Thank you for the perfect ending to 16 years of an imperfect BCS system.

Thank you for a game-changing fake punt, a 100-yard kickoff return, another late comeback by you-know-who, a career-defining, last-minute, game-winning drive by the Heisman Trophy owner.

Thank you for Florida State 34, Auburn 31.

This was the best national championship game since the 2005 season, when Texas beat USC on this same Rose Bowl field. This was the kind of game that you never erase from your DVR. The kind of game that grandparents tell their grandkids about.

Check that. It was the kind of game that a grandkid told his grandparents about. At least, that's what Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary did afterward as he embraced Jack and Barbara Nicklaus on the confetti-strewn field.

The greatest golfer of all-time wore an FSU cap and a proud smile as he posed for family photos with O'Leary. And if you looked hard enough, you'd swear he was near tears.

Auburn fans know the feeling. With just 79 seconds remaining in the game, the Tigers held a four-point lead against an FSU team favored by double digits. Hold on to that lead and Auburn wins its second national title in four years and extends the SEC streak to an eight-peat.

Instead, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who had played like Ja-miss for large chunks of the game, led the Seminoles from their own 20-yard line to Auburn's end zone. The game was closer than a pair of Biggest Losers crammed into a Smart car and FSU -- and especially Winston -- delivered when it mattered most.

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Over 13 games, Jameis Winston proved himself the best player in college football. The Florida State quarterback proved a redshirt freshman could win the Heisman Trophy while leading his team to an undefeated season, a No. 1 ranking, and a place in the BCS National Championship. He proved he could maintain his focus down the home stretch as the nation speculated for a month on whether he was a felon.

On Monday night, playing No. 2 Auburn at the Rose Bowl, Winston proved something else entirely. He proved he is human, that he can be thrown off his rhythm, that he can telegraph his passes, that he can play a half looking like the first-year player that the roster says he is.

Winston proved he can do all of that and still lead his team to victory in the biggest game of his young life. With Florida State trailing Auburn, 31-27, and only 1:19 showing on the clock, Winston took the Seminoles 80 yards in seven plays, and threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with :13 to spare, the winning margin in a 34-31 victory that sent the BCS out with a flourish.

Winston left his teenage years behind him Monday night, and not just because it was his 20th birthday.

"It's the best football game he played all year," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said, "and I'll tell you why. Because for three quarters he was up and down, and he fought. And just like any great player, some nights you don't have it. When you can go back like the great ones do -- 'It's not my night but we've got a chance to win this ballgame. It's in the fourth quarter, I've got one or two touches left' -- and you can take your team down the field and lead to victory, that's what a great player is to me.

"Anybody can do it when it's their 'A' game night. A lot of guys can do that. Very few can do it when it's not their night."

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Auburn runs out of miracles

January, 7, 2014
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PASADENA, Calif. -- There were no miracles this time, only heartache.

And for the longest time, it didn’t look like Auburn would need a miracle Monday night after building an 18-point lead on a VIZIO BCS National Championship stage that not even the most die-hard fan on the Plains would have dreamed the Tigers would be playing on back in August.

But Florida State came storming back with a little late-game magic of its own to win a 34-31 thriller at the Rose Bowl, leaving a lump in the Tigers’ collective throats and bringing to an end the SEC’s national championship streak.

“We’ve been in this position all season long,” Auburn senior cornerback Chris Davis said. “We believe that if the game’s close, we’re going to win. It didn’t go our way tonight, and it’s going to take a long time for this hurt to go away.”

[+] EnlargeDee Ford
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesDee Ford had two sacks for Auburn.
The truth is that Auburn was never supposed to be here, not after going winless in the SEC a year ago, firing Gene Chizik as its head coach and starting over with Gus Malzahn.

But Malzahn’s message to his team in his very first meeting was that the Tigers were going to engineer the biggest turnaround in college football history.

And, boy, were they close, which made Monday night’s loss all the more nauseating for them.

“I apologize to the Auburn family and the rest of the fans that we didn’t finish,” said Auburn running back Tre Mason, who rushed for 195 yards on 34 carries and surpassed Bo Jackson as Auburn’s single-season rushing leader.

“We didn’t finish what we started. That’s a great team [Florida State] and they deserved to win. They found a way to win at the end.”

Mason had given Auburn a 31-27 lead with 1:19 to play on a tackle-breaking, 37-yard touchdown run.

“We knew we were going to take it down and score there,” Mason said. “Even after they returned that kickoff, you could just feel it on our sideline.”

It’s the same script Auburn had followed all season, whether it was Davis’ kick-six touchdown against Alabama, Ricardo Louis’ Hail Mary touchdown catch against Georgia or Nick Marshall’s late touchdown pass to beat Mississippi State.

“Right now, I’m kind of at a loss for words,” Auburn center Reese Dismukes said. “No one gave us a chance at the beginning of the season. We won the SEC championship in the best league in the country. Obviously, it was a successful season, but you’d like to win one more game.”

If not for a handful of plays, Auburn could easily be taking the final BCS crystal trophy back to the Plains.

Jameis Winston’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds to play won it for the Seminoles. But a play earlier, Davis was flagged for pass interference in the end zone when Winston tried to hit Rashad Greene on a third-and-8 play.

“I didn’t think it was pass interference. The ref called it, so it is what it is,” Davis said.

As costly as that pass-interference penalty was for the Tigers, the real back-breaker was Greene’s 49-yard catch-and-run to set up Benjamin’s touchdown. Auburn was in a zone and had a chance to tackle Greene for a modest gain, but he split Davis and safety Ryan Smith and was off to the races.

“We just didn’t come up with a stop when we needed to, and we usually do that as a defense,” said Davis, who was also covering Benjamin on his game-winning touchdown.

Auburn’s defense deserved better. The Tigers pressured Winston repeatedly, sacked him four times and held the Seminoles to three offensive touchdowns.

But Kermit Whitfield’s 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to put Florida State ahead 27-24 late in the fourth quarter was a killer. Likewise, the Tigers had another breakdown on special teams late in the second quarter when they gave up a fake punt leading to Florida State’s only first-half touchdown.

“They just executed at the times they needed to,” said Auburn defensive end Dee Ford, who had two sacks. “We played great for 3½ quarters. It just came down to that one possession. We had some calls that didn’t go our way, and it just didn’t work out. It’s unfortunate, but we have nothing to hang our heads about.

“Those same guys who were out there on that field were the same guys that helped get us here. We went out and fought. We just came up short. We’re not going to hang our heads.”

Wait is over for Florida State

January, 7, 2014
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PASADENA, Calif. -- As the Florida State players emerged from the locker room for the second half of Monday night’s VIZIO BCS National Championship, their confidence unwavering in spite of falling behind against Auburn, receiver Kelvin Benjamin said they all agreed in the huddle that “this is our time.”

Florida State had waited long enough.

With the program’s first national title since 1999 on the line, Florida State found one big play after another -- the kind of explosive, big gains they had made look so easy all season but were so hard to come by against Auburn. It wasn’t just Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who had been pressured all night by Auburn’s defensive line, who delivered in the clutch. It was freshman Kermit Whitfield, one of the fastest young players in the country, whose jaw-dropping, 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter changed the game with blazing speed. It was Rashad Greene, whose ability to split two defenders and run 49 yards off a screen pass extended the game-winning drive. It was Benjamin, whose otherwise quiet night was overshadowed by the game-winning touchdown.

One thing it wasn’t: all about conference supremacy.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return was just one of many big plays the Seminoles used to win their first national title since 1999.
While so much has been made about the ACC versus the SEC, Monday night’s moment of celebrating a 34-31 win over Auburn was for Florida State, and only Florida State. The Seminoles earned it, collectively. As the players made their way to the locker room after the game, clutching roses between their teeth and already wearing their new hats and T-shirts proclaiming them national champs, it was a celebration of an improbable come-from-behind win -- and more than a decade of waiting for the return to No. 1.

“I have to say, it’s been a four-year evolution to put ourselves in this opportunity,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We talked about being a program, and we wanted to do things right, and we wanted to build the foundation, and these guys have given their hearts and souls to us as coaches and it’s been unbelievable.”

So was the game -- the last of the BCS era.

Florida State’s comeback from 18 points down was the largest in BCS national championship game history. The Noles trailed 21-3 with 5:01 left in the second quarter. It looked like a dud, a collapse on the game’s biggest stage. Florida State’s strength of schedule was once again called into question. So was its offense. And its defense.

None of the players, though, flinched.

“When you train like we do and practice the way we practice, it’s a habit to go out and play hard and compete,” Greene said. “We weren’t worried. I wasn’t nervous at all. Even when they scored and there wasn’t much time on the clock. Honest to god, I still knew we were going to win the game.”

At halftime, Fisher prodded his team to keep blocking on kickoff returns because “Kermit’s going to pop one anytime now.”

Nobody else saw it coming -- and Auburn couldn’t stop it.

Whitfield’s return was the first special teams touchdown in the national title game since 2007, and it gave FSU a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left in the game. Fisher said Whitfield ran a 10.1 in the 100 meters, the third-fastest time in high school history.

“He has great hips, great acceleration, he’s learning our offense and getting the touches,” Fisher said. “But in the open field, he’s as dynamic as anybody in America.”

With Auburn being such an opportunistic team, though, it wasn’t enough. Auburn responded with a touchdown on the next drive to take the 31-27 lead, and Florida State had 1:19 left to win a national title.

From FSU’s own 28-yard line, Winston found Greene for 49 yards, and two plays later the Noles were in the red zone. Greene said he saw “green grass and one defender,” so he got as many yards as he could before stepping out of bounds.

“I knew those guys were physical corners, physical defenders, so it was my job to get physical back with them and create some type of separation, and I was able to do it,” Greene said. “We definitely had that calm mentality, just take a little at a time and they’ll definitely come, and [the big plays] came at the end.”

Indeed, it was finally their time.

Video: Auburn TE C.J. Uzomah

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Chris Low talks with Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah following the Tigers' loss to FSU in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Video: Auburn WR Sammie Coates

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Chris Low talks with Auburn receiver Sammie Coates following the Tigers' loss to FSU in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Video: Auburn FB Jay Prosch

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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Chris Low talks with Auburn fullback Jay Prosch about what was said in the locker room following the Tigers' loss to FSU in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Title Game Live: In-game chat wrap

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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The BCS went out with a bang. After one of the most dramatic fourth quarters in title-game history, Florida State beat Auburn 34-31 and ended the SEC's streak of seven straight national championships.

We were discussing it with you during all of the drama in yet another entertaining BCS game chat. Relive it all here, along with our postgame analysis and videos/pics from the field in Pasadena.

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