No. 2 Auburn aiming to defy odds 1 more time

The Auburn Tigers were slim favorites over Georgia and

double-digit underdogs against Alabama.

Then, a common assumption was that a hangover from that dramatic

Iron Bowl victory would surely linger into the Southeastern

Conference championship game against Missouri. Now, No. 1 Florida

State is an 8 1/2-point favorite to beat the second-ranked Tigers

and claim the BCS title on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.

The refrain feels sort of familiar to Auburn defensive end Dee

Ford, who said the Tigers will be ready anyway.

”Once the ball is rolled out, it’s time to play football,”

Ford said on Wednesday. ”It really doesn’t matter about any

rankings. I think any team can play in the national championship

that’s a good caliber team. It’s just all about who prepares. I

could care less about people not believing or saying, `This is the

time they’re going to fall.’ We prepare for all this.

”They’re saying that as though we didn’t prepare to win these

games. We prepared to win them, and we’re doing the exact same

things with these two to three weeks that we have right now.”

Auburn (12-1) has defied the odds, and the doubters, to this

point. The Tigers began preparations this week to face the

Seminoles (13-0) and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis

Winston after pulling out an escalating series of big games with a

couple of fantastic finishes and an overpowering 59-42 victory over

Missouri to win the SEC.

There was the ”Immaculate Deflection” against Georgia and the

return of a missed field goal to beat the Crimson Tide.

”These last few games, every win has been kind of like surreal

for me and I think for most of my teammates,” fullback Jay Prosch

said. ”Especially coming off a season like last year. So I think

it’s just something guys are soaking in and loving right now.”

At least Auburn is getting used to big stages and high stakes

after being out of national prominence for a couple of years. The

Tigers have beaten two straight Top-5 teams.

”I think if you look at our entire schedule, I would like to

think we are battle-tested,” first-year coach Gus Malzahn said.

”We’ve been in some true dog-fight games. We’ve been in some games

where the pressure was on on the road, at home, and our guys have

responded. In big games I know they are not going to panic, so I’ve

got to believe that will help us moving forward.”

Florida State, meanwhile, has gone unchallenged in virtually

every game. The closest call was a 48-34 win over Boston College

all the way back on Sept. 28.

The Tigers have already matched the 1999-2000 Hawaii teams for

the biggest one-year turnaround in NCAA history after going

3-9.

”We knew this would be a rebuilding-type year,” tight end C.J.

Uzomah said. ”I don’t know if we thought instantly we would have

this amount of success. But there wasn’t a doubt in our mind we

would be able to get back up to this caliber in no time. The kids I

came in with – Tre (Mason), Quan (Bray), Greg (Robinson) – we

wanted to win a national championship and we wanted to have a

repeat of the 2010 season. And here we are, reliving it.”

They’re savoring the opportunity to claim a second title in four

years.

”You just have to embrace the moment,” quarterback Nick

Marshall said. ”Just seize the moment of being in the championship

game, period. It doesn’t come too often, so when you’re in it you

just have to make the best of it.”

The Tigers’ momentum is paying off on the recruiting trail.

Auburn signed four junior college players on Wednesday,

including wide receiver D’haquille Williams from Gulf Coast

Community College. Williams is regarded as the nation’s top JUCO

prospect.

Gulf Coast teammate safety Derrick Moncrief also signed with the

Tigers, along with Copiah-Lincoln offensive lineman Xavier Dampeer

and Georgia Military College defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert.