TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After months of drama and debate, there finally were two clear-cut teams at the top of the BCS standings on Sunday night.
No. 1 Florida State (13-0) will face No. 2 Auburn (12-1) in the BCS championship game on Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. in Pasadena, Calif. Both schools ended up 1-2 in the components of the BCS — the coaches’ poll, Harris Interactive poll and computer rankings. And Auburn finished well ahead of No. 3 Alabama.
“After you woke up today, it kind of sunk in,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “Once you heard it on TV, that you’re the No. 1 team and playing in the national championship game against a great opponent like Auburn, it does sink in. You know it is reality and all the hard work is paying off.”
The game will match the ACC champion Seminoles, the last unbeaten team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, against the SEC champion Tigers, who knocked off No. 1 Alabama and No. 5 Missouri in consecutive weeks.
The schools are separated by just less than 200 miles. And while they haven’t played since 1990, there are plenty of ties between the school. Fisher was the quarterbacks coach at Auburn from 1993-98. And one of the quarterbacks that he coached at Auburn was Dameyune Craig. Fisher hired Craig as an assistant coach at Florida State from 2010-12, but Craig in January decided to move back to his alma mater in January.
And both Fisher and Craig were the lead recruiters on Jameis Winston when he was in high school at Hueytown, Ala. Winston was a five-star quarterback who was considering Florida State, Alabama and Auburn before eventually choosing the Seminoles in February 2012.
On Saturday, Winston could win the Heisman Trophy. And on Jan. 6, his 20th birthday, Winston will be playing for a national title.
“Our team is trying to make history,” Winston said. “We’re not trying to look at individual stats and things like that. We’re trying to do something so much bigger than this.”
Both teams have reached the championship game with high-powered offenses. While the national perception is Winston’s passing leading the team, Florida State has 41 rushing touchdowns and 40 passing touchdowns. The Seminoles are second in the nation in scoring at 53 points per game.
Auburn is more one-dimensional on offense, but the rushing option is versatile, loaded with playmakers and very tough to defend. In Saturday’s SEC championship game win, Auburn ran for 545 yards (Tre Mason had 304 yards and four touchdowns) in a 59-42 win. The Tigers lead the nation with an average of 335.7 rushing yards per game, but they average just 169.6 passing yards per game and rank 107th in the FBS.
One advantage that Florida State appears to have is on defense. While Auburn gave up 42 points in the SEC title game, Florida State has allowed just 34 points combined in the past five games. The Seminoles are No. 1 in the nation by allowing just 10.7 points per game, albeit in an ACC that is weaker than the SEC. Auburn is allowing 24 per game.
“They’re big time on offense, they can throw it, they can run it,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of Florida State. “They got one of the better defenses in college football. We have our work cut out for us.”
The Seminoles last played for a national title in 2000, falling to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Florida State capped a perfect season in 1999 with a national title and a Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech. Auburn’s last national title was when the Cam Newton-led Tigers won in 2010.
Now a senior cornerback, Lamarcus Joyner verbally committed to Fisher in the days after Bobby Bowden was forced into retirement in December 2009. Joyner has seen the program transition from its struggles toward one that has now won back-to-back ACC titles and is playing for a national championship.
“This program had been down for a while and Coach Fisher came in here and did a pretty great job of recruiting and rebuilding this program,” Joyner said. “Just to be a part of something special, to be able to bring this program back … watching this program when I was a young child, and to be a part of it and be a part of something special, there’s no better feeling right now.”