For the past seven seasons, college football’s biggest game has triggered one year-long SEC pep rally after another.
Regardless of the winning team’s uniform color, the script never changes. Victorious fans chant “SEC! SEC! SEC!” as the BCS crystal football is paraded around the playing field. TV analysts respond by speculating about which sacrificial lamb from another third-world conference might emerge, 52 weeks later, as the SEC’s next prime-time punching bag.
Expect that cycle to become extinct sometime in the second half of Monday’s BCS National Championship Game between No. 1 Florida State (13-0) and No. 2 Auburn (12-1), based on the body language, focus and pre-game chatter from the top-ranked, non-SEC Seminoles.
FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, and his coach, Jimbo Fisher, have gone out of their way the past week to dismiss the commonly held belief that Auburn is a team of destiny in the BCS title race because of its penchant for close victories, combined with its SEC pedigree.
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“I’m glad they call Auburn a team of destiny. Because at Florida State, we control our destiny,” Winston said, citing the fact that FSU has won all of its games by at least 14 points. “Where in the rule book does it say that we can’t blow out everybody we play? We can do anything we want to do.”
Asked about Auburn’s blue-blood conference affiliation in regard to his team’s ACC ties, Winston shrugged.
“We’re not real worried about the SEC stuff,” Winston said. “I’m worrying about winning the championship. I’m going to be able to say I’m a champion. That’s the most important part.”
Fisher, likewise, downplayed concerns about Auburn’s perceived mojo advantage because of its magical, turnaround season.
“I don’t believe in destiny. You change your destiny by the decisions you make each day,” Fisher said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Truth be told, a Seminoles victory, coupled with Oklahoma’s 45-31 paddling of traditional SEC kingpin Alabama in last week’s Sugar Bowl, would give college football the greatest present the sport could receive as it heads into next year’s College Football Playoff era.
It would offer an overdue reminder that the game’s top team can be built in any time zone, regardless of whether grits and sweet tea are available at all restaurants flanking the campus.
More important, it would serve as a mandate to members of the first-year selection committee to watch the games and respond accordingly when seeding the four participants vying to reach the first title game of the playoff era, set for Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. In other words: no guaranteed reservations for two SEC participants in the four-team field, just because of recent history.
Without question, the SEC deserves praise for its unprecedented run of dominance in the final seasons of the BCS era. It deserves to be recognized as the nation’s strongest conference. But that does not guarantee that the SEC, on an annual basis, spawns the nation’s top team. Or even two of the top four.
This sport is cyclical, just like the SEC’s current hot steak. If you actually watch games and listen closely to the chatter from the participants in Pasadena, Calif., you should realize there is ample reason why Auburn enters as an 8.5-point underdog.
The Tigers’ worst-to-first climb to the top of the SEC standings has been built on crazy bounces and uncanny good fortune in crunch time. Four of their 12 victories have come in heart-stopping, last-minute fashion (Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State).
Florida State, on the other hand, considers itself on a collision course with history. The Seminoles are looking way past the opportunity to stop some SEC winning streak. They want to be remembered as the best team in the history of the sport and enter with evidence to back that argument.
Heading into the title game, FSU leads the nation in scoring (53.0 avg.) and scoring defense (10.7 avg.). The Seminoles won their two decisive matchups in the ACC title race by a combined 75 points, routing No. 12 Clemson 51-14 and No. 24 Duke 45-7.
The last undefeated team to reach a title game in such dominant fashion was the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers. That team finished 12-0, winning its games by an average margin of 38.7 points. Florida State, at 13-0, has won its games by an average margin of 42.3 points.
Continuing that level of domination against Auburn, which features an FBS-best ground game (335.7 yards per game), is unlikely. But a victory, based on the eyeball test, seems likely. Not just to me, but also to Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, whose team has defeated SEC notables Auburn (2012), LSU (2012) and Georgia (2013) the past two seasons while posting an 0-2 mark against the Seminoles.
Watkins said these Seminoles feature the best defense he’s faced in three seasons of college football, along with the best QB in Winston.
“They’ve got a complete team. They’ve got a lot of athletic guys out there, the same speed as me,” Watkins said in a recent interview. “They come out to dominate you, no matter who you are. They come out and they know they’re going to win.”
Another win tonight would mean a fresh, non-SEC face atop the college football landscape as we move from the BCS era to the playoff era. Other than the 14 precincts represented by the SEC, that would be a welcome change throughout the rest of the college football world.
Florida State vs. Auburn, head to head
|Category (rank)||Florida State||Auburn|
|Points per game||53 (1)||40.2 (8)|
|Total offense||529.4 (5)||505.3 (11)|
|Passing offense||322.0 (14)||169.6 (107)|
|Rushing offense||207.4 (23)||335.7 (1)|
|3rd-down conv.||55.2% (3)||45.6% (27)|
|Points allowed||10.7 (1)||24.0 (38)|
|Total defense||268.5 (3)||423.5 (87)|
|Passing defense||152.0 (1)||260.2 (102)|
|Rushing defense||116.5 (13)||163.2 (62)|
|3rd-down conv.||30.1 (3)||34.0 (20)|