PASADENA, Calif. — In the waning minutes of the final BCS Championship Game, a question was pondered among the scattered media on the sidelines:
Was the Auburn-Florida State finish as exciting as the end of Texas-USC in 2006?
Three lead changes in the final 4 minutes, 31 seconds later, including a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Florida State’s Kermit Whitfield, the answer is an almost astounding yes.
"I said this from Day 1 in spring ball: This is special. They wanted to be an elite team," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said after the Seminoles’ 34-31 victory. "Kermit’s a big-time player. In the open field, he’s a good as anyone in America."
In a game that was dictated almost as much by the Auburn crowd noise as by the Tigers (12-2) on the field for 55 minutes, it’s fitting that Florida State (14-0) would win the last title game of the BCS era 15 years after losing in the first one in 1999.
Florida State did, however, win the BCS title in 2000 — its last championship before Monday night.
And while Jameis Winston (20-for-35 passing, 237 yards, two TDs) struggled to find his rhythm for most of the game, the Heisman Trophy winner made the critical throws on the Seminoles’ winning march. And none were bigger than a pair to Rashad Greene — for 8 and 49 yards on the first two plays of the drive — before the junior receiver drew a pass interference call that set up the winning touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining.
"… at the end of the day, he’s (Winston) a freshman, and I think tonight we kind of exposed that, and we just weren’t able to finish in the last drive," said Auburn linebacker Dee Ford, who recorded two of the Tigers’ four sacks of Winston.
The ever-so-confident Winston, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Monday, said he wasn’t rattled.
"Throughout the whole game, I was uncomfortable, but Auburn wasn’t the cause of that. It was myself," said Winston, the fourth Heisman winner to earn a BCS title. "It was me wanting to do too much instead of doing what I needed to do.
"… If Auburn had me rattled, I don’t think we would have won the game."
"It’s the best football game he played all year," Fisher added. "And to pull it out in the atmosphere and environment and with what was on the line tonight, to me, if that’s not a great player, I don’t know what one is."
When it was over, and the celebrating kicked into high gear, and the deafening sound of the Tomahawk Chop dominated in the Rose Bowl, none of the Florida State fans among of 94,208 in attendance were going anywhere. They hugged and screamed and cried and snapped pictures with Christian Ponder and Warrick Dunn.