Auburn vs. Florida State: Fitting Finale For The BCS
The greatest Iron Bowl of all time will not go down as the Irony Bowl. After Championship Saturday played out, Auburn will indeed meet Florida State for the national title, and we will avoid one of the worst things that could ever happen in the pop culture world: A Sports Travesty.
The Bowl Championship Series, which is so broken that it had to be fixed, somehow got it right again, this one last time. Florida State will play Auburn on Jan. 6, 2014, in Pasadena, Calif. Whew.
If this were next year, a bowl championship selection committee populated by the likes of Archie Manning, Tom Osborne and Condoleezza Rice would presumably get together at the NCAA's expense to eventually put out an announcement that says, "Here is your very first College Football Final Four: 1. Florida State. 2. Auburn. 3. Alabama. 4. Michigan State." The luminaries might go through the motions for a bit on the merits of Baylor vs. Michigan State, but it's reasonable to assume that it wouldn't take them long, especially considering that just about anybody could come up with these four on the home computer.
So thank you, Michigan State, for bailing out the BCS in its final, creaky hours. Because of the Spartans' 34-24 win over Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, we are spared the prospect of Auburn - clearly the hottest and most exciting team in the country - having to sit out the national championship game and instead slum it at possibly the Sugar Bowl. (That would qualify at the ESPYs as Sports Travesty of the Year.) If the Spartans had not ended Ohio State's 24-game winning streak, the people and computers that matter would have become self-aware and absolutely insisted that Urban Meyer's Buckeyes get their due respect and a shot at the title.
And thank you, Auburn. First, Chris Davis gave this generation its college football lore moment, and the older generation strained Achilles' tendons. (For those who live in a cave with no wireless and have been so kind to seek isportstimes.com and this story for information: I wish you could have seen it! Davis' 109-yard return of Adam Griffith's 57-yard field goal attempt gave Auburn a 34-28 victory over No. 1 Alabama as time expired and bedlam ensued. It was better than The Play in '82, and Flutie's Hail Mary in '84. All Davis didn't do was run over a Crimson Tide trombone player!) Second, and perhaps more significantly, Auburn ended Satan's run, I mean Saban's run. Nick Saban, who will probably end up being called the greatest coach in college football history, had coached and taught his Alabama teams how to put a stranglehold on the entire sport for almost three years and what seemed like an eternity.
Of course, things can only change but so much in the SEC and the SEC West, which this season was basically the ninth division of the NFL. Auburn will be trying to keep the crystal football in the state of Alabama for a fifth straight season, and in the conference of the Southeast for the eighth straight season. (I'm picturing Mr. Foghorn Leghorn of Looney Tunes Sports.com: "I say, I say, that's what you call a dynasty, boy.")
Auburn's amazing, charmed run into the national title spotlight may need a little more pixie straws dust. In the Tigers' way is ... cue the tom-tom drums and war chants that are morally superior to the antics of the Washington Redskins fans ... the only undefeated team in the country that matters, Florida State. Led by quarterback Jameis Winston, who recently got the "in" dropped from "famous" on his nickname and thus should be voted the Heisman Trophy winner, FSU did in the ACC Championship game what it has done all season: destroy. This time, Duke was in the way, 45-7. Before, the scores were, in order, 41-13, 62-7, 54-6, 48-34 (an actual close game, against Boston College), 63-10, 51-14, 49-17, 41-14, 59-3, 59-3 (again!), 80-14, and 37-7. You can say what you will about the ACC and the Seminoles' strength of schedule, but those would be a lot of points for a dummy scrimmage. And you have to give head coach Jimbo Fisher, a former Auburn assistant of all things, and his staff credit for style points and for turning the Florida State program into an SEC program.
In Pasadena, they are now preparing for a world-class track meet. Maybe a few strategically-placed hurdles will keep these offenses under 100 points and 1,000 yards. Auburn (12-1), in a 59-42 victory over a very good Missouri team in the SEC Championship game, gained 677 total yards. In FSU's win over Duke, Winston threw for 330 yards, and the 'Noles rushed for 229, giving them 559 total yards (yawn).
Florida State has been installed as a 7.5-point favorite, so the wise guys in Vegas are obviously enchanted with Winston and the entire ready-for-the-next-level top 20 of the 'Noles. But after the ball is actually kicked off and the matchup goes from pixels to pads, what may separate these two is the whirling, eccentric offense of options and reverses and sweeps set up by Auburn's first-year head coach Gus Malzahn. Missouri, the SEC's second-best run defense (119 yards allowed per game), couldn't stop it, and Alabama couldn't stop it. The star of the offense is often dynamic quarterback Nick Marshall, who saved the team earlier this season against Georgia with a Hail Mary play right up there with Flutie's (Hail Marshall?), but on Championship Saturday, it was a 5-foot-10, 205-pound junior named Tre Mason who carried the ball 46 times for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Astute CBS play-by-play man Verne Lundquist, who obviously remembers his '80s hip-hop, pointed out that Mason is the son of Vincent Mason, who in his days with De La Soul went by the names of P.A. Pasemaster Mase, Maseo, Plug Three, and Baby Huey.
If Auburn executes on offense and hangs in there enough on defense, the greatest play from the greatest game will all have led to the school's greatest moment. And the toilet paper that eventually falls to the ground at Toomer's Corner will be, to borrow from Johnny Cash and De La Soul, "three feet high and rising." War Eagle.
Mario Orlikoff is a writer based in Newport News, Va. Search for his articles on isportstimes.com
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