Destiny, history and a crystal football
Auburn's Miracle Makers
PASADENA, Calif. -- The final game of the BCS era (or error, take your pick) isn't about the legacy of a rusted, obsolete national title mechanism.
Or about SEC fatigue.
Or about whose NFL draft stock is enhanced or kneecapped.
It isn't about the supposed next football genius of the moment, or the next leveraged contract, or the trickle-down effect of a win or loss on next month's national signing day.
Instead, this VIZIO BCS National Championship, perhaps more than any championship game in recent memory, is about the journey. Seriously, have two teams ever followed a stranger set of football GPS directions than Auburn and Florida State?
The No. 1-ranked Seminoles asked Siri for directions to 1001 Rose Bowl Drive and here's how she got them there:
• Head north to Pittsburgh, Pa., and start a relative unknown redshirt freshman quarterback named Jameis Winston. Then watch Jameis become Famous as he completes 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns, plus adds another TD run to his college playing debut.
• Return to Tallytown, chow down on a few frosted cupcakes (Nevada and Bethune-Cookman) and proceed directly to Chestnut Hill, Mass. Then, trail Boston College 17-3, before removing the governor switch on the blowout. Final score: FSU 48, BC 34.
• Tenderize Maryland at home. Humiliate Clemson at Death Valley. Score 35 points in the first quarter against NC State to improve to 7-0 for the season. Stop to tell everyone that the last time you were 7-0 was in 1999 -- the same season FSU won a national championship.
• Proceed directly to Winston-Salem, N.C., and record six interceptions in a 59-3 win against Wake Forest.
• Take a detour as news surfaces that Winston is at the center of an ongoing investigation dealing with a sexual assault complaint filed in December 2012.
• As a mushroom cloud of controversy and conjecture envelops Winston and the investigation, beat Syracuse by 56, Idaho by 66 and Florida by 30.
• Watch as a giggly state attorney says Winston will not be charged with sexual assault, and then make your way to Charlotte, N.C. -- site of the ACC championship and, as it turns out, a 45-7 defeat of Duke.
• Send Winston to New York for Heisman Trophy acceptance speech.
• Head west to Southern California as nearly double-digit favorites in the title game -- which figures, since FSU is only 28 points away from setting an FBS record for points scored in a season.
Of course, Florida State's trip seems like a shortcut compared to what the Tigers overcame. FSU flew charter out here; Auburn needed angels' wings.
First of all, the Tigers were such a 2013 non-factor to start that exactly nobody in either the AP or USA Today preseason polls thought to include Auburn. Arkansas, which finished with an SEC o-fer, ended up on an August ballot, but not Auburn.
So the Tigers took the scenic route. What a ride.
• Hire Gus Malzahn, who just eight years ago was coaching at Springdale (Ark.) High School. Point offense toward Hurryupville.
• Name juco transfer (and former Georgia Bulldogs cornerback) Nick Marshall as your starting quarterback. Marshall was such a newcomer that he didn't even get his mug shot in the 2013 Auburn media guide.
• Proceed to Jordan-Hare Stadium for the home opener, trail Washington State early and then recover in time for a seven-point win.
• Remain at home and beat Arkansas State (the program Malzahn left for Auburn) and Mississippi State.
• Travel to Baton Rouge for what many considered the first of multiple Auburn losses. Watch as Auburn trails 21-0 at halftime and loses by 14.
• Return home and upset Ole Miss. Beat Western Carolina 62-3, despite Marshall sitting out the game with a knee injury. And, oh, sneak into the Top 25.
• Give up 602 total yards, trail in the first, second, third and fourth quarters, watch Johnny Manziel throw for 454 yards (and Mike Evans catch 11 passes for 287 of those yards) and still defeat Texas A&M at College Station -- Auburn's first road win against a ranked opponent since 2011.
• Climb to No. 11 in the rankings and dispose of Florida Atlantic. Move to No. 8 and beat the University of Karma in Fayetteville. Move to No. 7 and win big in Knoxville.
• Stop at Miracle Junction (aka Jordan-Hare) for the Immaculate Deflection against Georgia and two weeks later, The Kick-Six against Alabama for what has to be the most remarkable win in Iron Bowl history, right?
• Drive to Atlanta as the No. 3 team in the country, but return from the SEC championship as the new No. 2 team, thanks to a 59-42 win against Missouri and then Michigan State's victory against then-No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship.
• Refuel as running back Tre Mason goes to New York as a Heisman finalist and Malzahn collects assorted coach of the year awards.
• Make your way west to California, where Auburn players and coaches bristle at the idea that their season was built on luck (ask them to name the defining game of their year and they say the comeback win on the road against Johnny Football).
• So here we are. Undefeated Florida State versus once-beaten Auburn. No. 1 versus How'd They Get Here?
Consider: The Seminoles' All-American kicker, Roberto Aguayo, has scored more points than all of FSU's opponents combined. Florida State hasn't trailed since the second quarter of its Sept. 28 game at Boston College. Winston is actually more lethal away from Doak Campbell Stadium (five of his seven 300-yard games were on the road). The Seminoles didn't require any football miracles this season.
Consider: The Tigers believe in the three M's (Malzahn, Marshall and Mason) and the two D's (defensive end Dee Ford and that other word, destiny -- 3-9 last year, 12-1 this year for one of the great turnarounds in FBS history). Auburn leads the nation in rushing. And if they can keep FSU close, the Tigers are 5-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer and 6-0 in games decided by eight points or fewer. In other words, they're not afraid of the moment.
Next year we'll have a four-team playoff. But that's next year.
For now, we get a national championship game between one team that began the season out of the top 10 (FSU) and another that began it out of the national consciousness (Auburn).
We get star power (Winston: "If we going to do it then, we do it big."). We get points (FSU averages 53.0 points, Auburn 40.2). We get the possibility of a semi-blowout (What if Auburn's defense can't hold up?), but also the possibility of an upset (What if FSU is in an actual tight game?).
Most of all, college football gets what it deserves: a fitting end to a hellacious journey.
BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
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