Team Destiny vs. Team Domination.
Before the Bowl Championship Series is replaced next year by a playoff, No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn will meet in its last title game Monday night at the Rose Bowl.
The Seminoles (13-0) ripped through their schedule on the way to Pasadena, winning each game by at least 14 points behind Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston.
“I still think our best game is out there,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Sunday. “I’m looking forward to playing it on Monday night, and our kids are looking forward to the challenge.”
The turnaround Tigers (12-1) are the most unlikely group ever to reach the BCS championship game. Auburn went from 3-9 to Southeastern Conference champions in their first season under coach Gus Malzahn.
It was a wild ride. The Prayer at Jordan-Hare beat Georgia. The Kick-Six beat Alabama. Destiny? Fate? Luck? The Tigers don’t see it that way.
“Hey, I know we’re a team of hard work, I know that,” said tailback Tre Mason, a Heisman finalist who has run for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns for the No. 1 rushing offense in the country. “These guys put a lot of hard work in with me every day, blood, sweat and tears all year long.”
Auburn is the first team to reach the BCS championship game after having a losing season the previous season, and would become the first national champion to start the season unranked since BYU in 1984.
After 16 years of the BCS, the routine is familiar the day before the big game.
The coaches hold their final early morning news conferences, and then take a few minutes to shake hands with each other, exchange pleasantries and pose for pictures with the crystal football trophy that goes to the winner.
On Sunday it was Fisher, the fast-talking West Virginian and Nick Saban disciple, and Malzahn, who has gone from high school coach in Arkansas to the national championship game in eight years, running the drill.
Malzahn, who was the Tigers’ offensive coordinator when they won the 2010 national title, said Sunday he told his players before the season one of their goals was to make the biggest turnaround in college football. Done. Auburn has already matched the 2000 Hawaii team for most improved record in FBS history.
“Well, Auburn is a great program and used to winning championships, so I knew that we were going to get it turned around,” he said. “I didn’t know how quick. There was a lot of questions when we first got there. We did a lot of Dr. Phil-ing early, and our guys came together and they believed.”
Malzahn’s up-tempo, spread offense is a combination of deception and power that seemingly gets better every game. Against Missouri in the SEC championship game, Auburn ran for 545 yards.
“Well, you have to have eye discipline,” Fisher said. “Any time you have moving parts, any time you bring something in front of you, just like when you’re driving, if somebody flashes a hand in front of you while you’re driving down the road it makes you blink, it makes your eyes distracted and you get off of what you’re looking at and then at the same time they become very physical with how they play, and you get yourself out of position, they knock you out of the way, and there’s a four, five, eight, 10 or they break a run right up the middle.”
Fisher has put together the most talented two-deep depth chart in the country, a collection of five-star recruits and NFL prospects reminiscent of coach Bobby Bowden’s best Florida State teams. The Seminoles won two national titles under Fisher’s Hall of Fame predecessor and played in the first three BCS title games. The Seminoles haven’t been back since 2000.
A prodigy led them.
Winston turns 20 Monday. The redshirt freshman became the youngest player to win the Heisman Trophy, setting FBS freshman records for most yards passing (3,820) and touchdown passes (38). His only problems came off the field. In November, a year-old sexual assault complaint against him was investigated by Florida prosecutors. After three weeks, the state attorney announced he did not have enough evidence to charge Winston. A week and a half later, Winston won the Heisman in a landslide vote.
The Seminoles outscored their opponents by 42 points per game and have not trailed since Sept. 28. Winston and the rest of the starters have spent most fourth quarters relaxing. The Atlantic Coast Conference was no match for the Seminoles. Will the lack of stiff, four-quarter tests and not the most difficult of schedules put Florida State at a disadvantage?
The ‘Noles say nonsense.
“I can’t help that another team can’t keep up with us,” linebacker Telvin Smith said.
Florida State is also trying to break the SEC’s grip on the national championship. The streak is at seven, but never has the SEC team been as big an underdog (Auburn is getting 10 points from oddsmakers).
The Seminoles are fine with being the favorites.
“I’m glad everybody’s calling Auburn a team of destiny,” Winston said, “because at Florida State we control our own destiny.”
WHAT'S AT STAKE
The Seminoles are looking for their third national championship and first since the 1999 season. Florida State can also become the third team in FBS history to win each of its games by at least 14 points, joining Utah in 2004 and Nebraska's 1995 national championship team. The Tigers are trying for their third national title and second in the last four seasons. They can also run the SEC's national title streak to eight.
Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin vs. Auburn's cornerbacks. Benjamin has a little Megatron in him. The sophomore is 6-foot-5 and 234 pounds. None of the cornerbacks can match up with him physically. The four listed on the depth chart range from 5-10 to 6-feet tall. Chris Davis is the best of the bunch.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Florida State: QB Jameis Winston. The Heisman Trophy-winning redshirt freshman can set an NCAA record for passing efficiency rating with another big game. He comes in with a rating of 190.05. The record is held by Russell Wilson (191.8). All-America CB Lamarcus Joyner leads the defense. He's small, 5-8 and 190, but versatile. He leads the Seminoles with five sacks.
Auburn: RB Tre Mason. A Heisman finalist, he ran for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns, and finished with a bang. He ran for 304 yards in the Southeastern Conference championship game against Missouri.
FACTS & FIGURES
Florida State can set an NCAA record for points in the season with 28 more. Oklahoma set the record in 2008 with 716. ... Auburn is the second team since the AP college football poll expanded to 25 teams in 1989 to play three consecutive top-five teams. The Tigers beat No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Missouri to get here. Colorado did it in 2001, but only won the first two. ... Auburn is the first ream to reach the BCS title game after having a losing season the year before and can become the first team to start the season unranked and win a national title since 1984 BYU. ... Auburn leads the nation in rushing at 335 yards per game, is third in yards per rush at 6.46 and third in rushing touchdowns with 46. Florida State has allowed only five rushing touchdowns, fewest in the nation, and 3.14 yards per carry (sixth best nationally). ... Florida State ranks in the top three in the country in 11 statistical categories, including second in scoring (53 points per game) and first in points allowed (10.7 ppg). ... Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is in his fourth season leading the Seminoles. He is 44-10 in his first head coaching job, including 3-0 in bowls. ... Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is in his first season with the Tigers. In his one season as Arkansas State coach, he went 9-3 and won the Sun Belt championship.
There will be a funeral amid the celebration after the BCS championship game.
The winner will be the last team to hoist the $30,000 Waterford crystal football that goes to college football’s champion and has become emblematic of the Bowl Championship Series.
Then the BCS will be buried in the Rose Bowl after 16 years of revolutionizing the sport — and frustrating so many of its fans and participants.
‘‘We wouldn’t have a playoff if we didn’t have the BCS,’’ BCS executive director Bill Hancock said Saturday during media day for the championship game.
In the end, the BCS turned out to be not a destination for college football’s postseason but part of its evolution.
Even one of its harshest critics concedes it did some good.
‘‘It’s better than what we had, but it should have lasted four years, not 16,’’ said Yahoo! Sports writer Dan Wetzel, who wrote the book ‘‘Death to the BCS.’’
The goal of the BCS was to take a bowl system that rarely matched the top two teams after the season and give it a structure that would produce 1 vs. 2 every season.
Before the BCS, there were 11 bowl games in college football history that matched the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the Associated Press poll. The BCS produced three such matchups in the first six seasons. There was even a split championship in 2003, when Southern Cal finished No. 1 in the AP poll but didn’t reach the BCS title game, which LSU won.
The LSU/USC controversy was followed a season later when the BCS’s simple, fatal flaw was exposed. What happens when there are three worthy teams for a game built for two? Undefeated Auburn was the odd team out among perfect USC and Oklahoma. At that point many fans were in revolt and the BCS became an easy target for its detractors.
Wetzel’s book came out in 2010 and it challenged everything about the BCS from how it picked the teams to where the money went.
With momentum building for change, the last crack that made the BCS crumble came after the 2012 season, when the national championship game matched two SEC teams: Alabama vs. LSU in New Orleans.
The commissioners met a day after the game and started constructing a four-team playoff.
Now that the BCS is about to be laid to rest, as with any funeral, the last word should be something nice about the departed.
‘‘Although it was heavily criticized and misunderstood,’’ said Hancock, ‘‘the BCS did everything it was intended to do and then some.’’