NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- For Florida State, it has been 14 years since the Seminoles last won college football’s national championship. For Auburn, it has been three.
For both teams, it’s about restoring lost glory.
When Florida State faces Auburn in tonight’s BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl, two iconic programs that fell on hard times after reaching the top will be vying for another title to complete their resurrections.
As Jameis Winston, the Seminoles’ quarterback sensation, often puts it: It’s about “bringing back the swag” to FSU.
The undefeated Seminoles, who steamrolled opponents, winning by an average margin of 42 points, are favored by more than a touchdown to bring down Auburn and end the SEC’s run of seven consecutive national titles.
“I still think our best game’s out there,” said FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher.
That could be a scary prospect for Auburn, which required two miraculous finishes, a handful of close calls, and outside help in order to reach what will be the 16th and final BCS championship game. College football is turning to a playoff next season to decide its champion.
The Tigers, who are only one year removed from a dismal 3-9 record and last-place finish in the SEC in which they failed to win a conference game, are back in the limelight thanks to a punishing ground game and incredible good fortune.
They defeated Georgia toward the end of the season on a 73-yard Hail Mary pass and did in defending champion Alabama with a dramatic field goal return for a touchdown. Though the SEC has looked strong as usual by going 7-2 in bowl games so far, the two defeats belong to…..Georgia and Alabama.
The Seminoles required no miracles to reach Pasadena.
None of their 13 games was even remotely close, save for perhaps their 48-34 victory over Boston College back on Sept. 28. They have not trailed at any point in any game since then. Their first-team defense has not allowed a rushing touchdown all season.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn calls the FSU offense “machine-like.”
And it’s all controlled by a redshirt freshman quarterback whose 20th birthday happens to coincide with Monday’s game.
“It would be the best birthday present in the world,” said Winston, who will try to become the first Heisman winner since Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010 to win a national title the same season. Charlie Ward did the same in 1993 when the Noles won the first of their two titles.
Though Winston is young, he’s also brash and confident, and Fisher said there’s not a nervous bone in his body as he prepares for the biggest game of his life.
“I don’t think it’ll make him blink one bit,” Fisher said of the pressure confronting Winston and everyone else involved in the game for both Florida State and Auburn. “He’s been laser-focused.”
Winston said his mantra all season has been: “If you gonna do it, might as well do it big.”
Winston, the pride of Hueytown, Ala., would love nothing more than to do it against a home state school that recruited him and was his mother’s favorite team.
“This is my rivalry game playing against Auburn,” Winston said. “I wanted to play a team from Alabama.”
Alabama teams have won the past four national titles. For that matter, teams from either Alabama or Florida have won six of the past seven titles, with only LSU interrupting in 2007.
Winston said his Heisman Trophy is back home in Alabama.
But he wants to return the national championship trophy to Florida State, which fell by the wayside in terms of national stature after winning its last title in 1999. The decade-long drought cost FSU coaching legend Bobby Bowden his job.
“I want to be the last person on the field [Monday night], and I want to be holding up that crystal ball,” Winston said.