The last time a Southeastern Conference school didn’t win the national championship in football, Jimbo Fisher was an assistant at LSU, Jameis Winston was 12, and Florida State was coming off its worst season in 20 years.
The No. 1 Seminoles would end the SEC’s reign — and prevent the crystal trophy from returning to the state of Alabama for the first time in five years — by knocking off No. 2 Auburn on Jan. 6 in the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.
“Me being from Alabama, I'm going to be excited to play this game,” said Winston, the Seminoles’ star quarterback and top contender to win the Heisman Trophy.
FSU, which played in the first three BCS title games, should be favored to win the final one based on a 12-0 record in which the Seminoles demolished teams by an average score of more than 40 points. The Noles dusted Duke on Saturday to capture the ACC crown and maintain its position atop the polls.
Auburn (12-1) made it by defeating Missouri in the SEC championship on Saturday and after previously unbeaten Ohio State lost to Michigan State for the Big Ten title.
“It is kind of ironic that things always go in circles, and come in cycles like that, and everything comes right back around to where it started,” Fisher said. “It’s very unique that the SEC, which has dominated, and Florida State, which was in the first three national championships [is returning] … it’s kind of funny that it did kind of come full circle like that.”
Neither team was expected to make it to Pasadena, not if you went by the preseason polls.
FSU was ranked 11th in the Associated Press preseason poll, and Auburn didn’t even make it into the “others receiving votes” following a dreadful 2012 season in which the Tigers went 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC.
“It has been a very fun year,” acknowledged Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. “This tea’'s gotten better each week and they’re playing their best football at the end of the year. They have come a long way. Our very first game, we were probably an average team.”
On a big run
Auburn has been on a stunning late-season run of improbable wins. They knocked off Georgia on a miracle touchdown pass, shocked the two-time defending national champions, Alabama, on a wild field goal return, and defeated Missouri in a high-scoring shootout to claim the SEC title.
As a result, Malzahn said he wouldn’t mind if they could play the national championship immediately — rather than wait 30 days — to keep the momentum going.
“Tell you what, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings,” he said.
Time to learn
But the extra time could also help Malzahn try to figure out a way to stop the Seminoles. No one else has this season.
With Winston running the show, no team has found a way to stop FSU.
The Seminoles ended up being the nation’s only unbeaten team.
“We’ve got a huge challenge against their offense,” Malzahn said. “Their quarterback [Winston] is unbelievable. Their receivers are unbelievable. They can run the football. We've got our work cut out for us.”
The BCS will give way to a playoff system next year to decide a champ.
“There was some nostalgia around here today as we compiled the standings for the last time,” said BCS executive director Bill Hancock, who noted that the top two teams met for the national title all 16 years of its existence — something that happened only eight times in the 56 years before the BCS.
Said Fisher: “We all complain about the BCS, but it’s funny how they always get it right. It’s probably appropriate these two teams are playing.”
The Seminoles say they will not try to think about the SEC's string of titles and look at Auburn as they would in any other team.
“In my honest opinion, I feel like it’s not the ACC conference versus the SEC conference,” FSU defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said.
“It’s Florida State versus Auburn. It’s a bunch of great, talented group of kids over here versus a great, talented group of kids. It’s all about eliminating the clutter.”