Seminoles wide receivers Kenny Shaw (81) and Kelvin Benjamin (1) and quarterback Jameis Winston (5) and wide receiver and Albany native Rashad Greene (80) react at the end of Saturday's game. (Reuters)
SEC Championship Game
Auburn and Missouri face off in the SEC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.
After 16 years, the final installment of the Bowl Championship Series will feature a school that played in the BCS' very first national title game in 1998: Florida State.
The BCS committee announced Sunday night that the No. 1 Seminoles (13-0) -- the last remaining unbeaten program in the FBS -- will face No. 2 Auburn (12-1) in the final BCS National Championship game on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif., before college football moves to a four-team playoff in 2014.
"We're very honored to be here and representing the ACC," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said Sunday evening during a national teleconference shortly after the BCS released its final standings. "Once you heard it on TV that you're No. 1 and you're going to the national championship, the reality sets in. It's really exciting."
Florida State also finished No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll released earlier Sunday in front of Auburn at No. 2, although the AP poll is not a component in determining the BCS standings.
It will be the fourth BCS title game for the Seminoles, who won the Atlantic Coast Conference title and are 1-2 in title games. It is second BCS national championship game for the SEC champion Tigers.
Florida State, which played in three straight BCS National Championship games from 1998-2000, won its last title in 1999 when it beat Virginia Tech, while Auburn took home its lone BCS crown by beating Oregon in 2010.
First-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was the offensive coordinator during the Tigers' championship run that year, and he said Sunday it felt great to be back.
"It has been a very fun year, really proud of teams and coaches, and we're playing our best football at the right time at the end of the season," Malzahn said Sunday evening. "And we're looking forward to playing a great program in a Florida State. It will be a tremendous challenge."
Florida State, which ascended to No. 1 last week after Auburn's upset win against then-top-ranked Alabama in the Iron Bowl, secured its position by crushing Duke 45-7 in Saturday's ACC title game. Behind redshirt freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy front-runner Jameis Winston, who will turn 20 the day of the national title game, the Seminoles have beaten every opponent in their path by 14 points or more points this season.
Auburn, meanwhile, smacked Missouri, 59-42, in the Southeastern Conference finale in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon, then watched with elation as Michigan State handed No. 2 Ohio State its first loss in two years when the Spartans upset the Buckeyes 34-24 in the Big Ten Championship late Saturday evening.
Auburn's invitation also means the SEC will have a chance to end the BCS' term with eight straight national titles by teams from the conference. With that in mind, some feel Fisher has been trying to build an SEC-caliber team in a Tallahassee to challenge that streak ever since taking over for legendary coach and NCAA all-time wins leader Bobby Bowden.
Fisher says he's just tried to build a winner. And Sunday's announcement that the Seminoles will go to Pasadena affirms he has.
"I built our program like I thought we needed to build it to win a championship," said Fisher, who was reportedly rewarded with a new five-year, multi-million dollar contract just before the ACC title game Saturday. "We don't model ourselves after nobody. We're Florida State, we do things the way we do them and the way I think we have to play to win a championship. That's the way I think we tried to build this team."
The Seminoles, who are going to a bowl game for a record 32nd consecutive season, rank No. 1 in the nation in yards per play on offense and second on yards given up per play on defense. With no obvious chinks in its armor, oddsmakers have already installed Florida State as 7-point favorites.
This year's BCS title game pits the only unbeaten team against the hottest team.
FSU, which began the season 11th in the nation, has slowly risen in the rankings week after week, knocking off four Top 25 teams on its way.
Auburn, however, took a far more difficult path, going from unranked in the opening preseason Top 25 polls to playing for it all. The Tigers' lone loss came in Week 4 to then-No. 6 LSU 35-21. Since then, Auburn has won nine straight, including comeback wins against Georgia and Alabama in back-to-back games, both of which ended in exciting fashion in the Tigers' favor.
Even more improbable is how far Auburn had come since last year, when the Tigers experienced one of their worst seasons in school history, finishing 3-9 and going winless in SEC play. With one game left, Auburn (12-1) could complete the greatest single-season turnaround in NCAA major-college history. Auburn has matched the 1999 Hawaii team, which went from 0-12 in 1998 to 9-4 the following year to establish the FBS record for greatest turnaround. Auburn could break the record by beating Florida State.