- Chris Low, College Football
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We say goodbye to the BCS (and, yes, some will say good riddance) with a matchup in the final VIZIO BCS National Championship that may be the toughest assignment yet for the conference everybody loves to hate.
The SEC, the epitaph on its national championship streak all but written just a week ago, is back on college football's grandest stage.
And if anybody says they tabbed Auburn back in the preseason to be the team carrying the SEC's banner, they either have a serious problem with the truth or are seriously psychic.
Either way, talk about a compelling way to bid adieu to the BCS era.
No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 2 Auburn.
One team established itself as the country's most talented team from the outset of the season, but had seemed to invent ways in recent years on how not to get to this point. One team didn't even win a conference game and fired its coach last season and was never supposed to be playing for a national championship.
They collide in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif., in what will be the final BCS National Championship.
"We showed the world that we belong here, and we're not done yet," Auburn receiver Sammie Coates said.
Back in August, it was the "other" team in the state of Alabama that was chasing history. The Crimson Tide were gunning for their third consecutive national championship, which has never been done in modern times.
Auburn had a close-up view of Alabama's historic run, too close for the folks on the Plains, and was left to pick up the scraps in a state where there is no such thing as an offseason in football.
But about as fast as Chris Davis can race 109 yards for a touchdown on a missed field-goal attempt, Auburn put a crimp in Alabama's march to history. Now, it's Alabama that has to sit back and watch as Auburn goes for its second national championship in the past four years.
Picking up that piece of hardware will entail taking down a Florida State team that's brimming with NFL talent.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose Blue Devils were blistered 45-7 by the Seminoles in Saturday's ACC championship game, said it may be the most impressive collection of talent across the board that he has ever seen on a college football team.
Keep in mind that Cutcliffe coached at Tennessee in the late 1990s when the Vols were the last team to repeat as SEC champions, and he also coached against some of Steve Spurrier's best teams at Florida in the 1990s, not to mention Alabama's 1992 national championship team.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston is the guy it all starts with for the Seminoles. He can go ahead and start clearing out a place on his mantle for the Heisman Trophy, but good luck in finding a position around him that doesn't also include NFL players.
In other words, if the SEC is going to make it eight straight national championships, this will be the most complete and the most talented team that the SEC has come up against in the title game.
The one notable exception may be the 2011 contest when it was an all-SEC final in New Orleans with Alabama taking down LSU in a rematch of their No. 1 vs. No. 2 game in November.
But, hey, this is the way it should be.
If the SEC's going to lose its belt, it's only fitting that somebody takes it away on the field.
Lining up against either one of these offenses right now is every defensive coordinator's nightmare.
Florida State has scored 37 or more points in all 13 of its games this season and 45 or more in 10 of those games. In four meetings with nationally ranked teams this season, the Seminoles have won by a combined margin of 200-35.
Most of their games have been over by the second half, or some of their numbers would be even gaudier.
Then there's Auburn and a running game that might as well be a runaway locomotive right now. The Tigers have rushed for 841 yards in their past two games, and they were going against the top two run defenses in the SEC (Alabama and Missouri).
Their pace is scary fast, and their tempo is even more impressive. But with a month between now and the title game, it's always a crapshoot as to how much a lengthy layoff like that will disrupt offensive rhythm.
One thing is for sure. The Tigers aren't changing for anybody. They're going to do what they do.
"If you can't stop it, we're going to make you like it until you stop it," said Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, one of two Auburn players to rush for 1,000 yards this season along with junior running back Tre Mason.
On paper anyway, one of the chief differences between these two teams is on defense.
Auburn is ranked 88th nationally in total defense and giving up 423.5 yards per game. The Tigers allowed 534 yards to Missouri in the SEC championship game.
Florida State has the country's top-ranked scoring defense. The Seminoles are allowing 10.7 points per game and have given up just 17 touchdowns in 13 games. They're also third nationally in total defense.
Six of the SEC's seven national championship teams during the streak have finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense. The only one that didn't was Auburn in 2010.
Defense has clearly been what has separated the SEC and kept the stream of crystal footballs coming in every year.
But as we pull the shade on the BCS one final time, this may be a game that gets us to rethink what championship defense truly is.
Just when it seemed the SEC's national championship streak was about to end, Auburn found a way to carry the league torch to Pasadena. But Florida State is the most formidable foe any SEC team has faced in a BCS Championship Game yet.