PASADENA, Calif. — Florida State has rarely been challenged this season, the Seminoles so dominant that today they will play for a place in history in college football’s most revered setting.
Auburn used two miracle finishes to reach the Bowl Championship Series championship game, but the Tigers also put themselves in position to make those plays.
Getting in position to beat top-ranked Florida State is another matter, but should No. 2 Auburn find itself in a tight game in the fourth quarter, the Tigers obviously know how to react. The question is, does Florida State?
Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston said the sexual assault allegation against him that hung over the season proved the team could handle pressure. The state attorney, citing a lack of evidence, declined to file charges.
“Adversity that we went through last month, that has been our close game because we had to get over that, I had to get over that,” said Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner who turns 20 today. “And when we’re playing against Auburn, we look for a football game and not to blow them out. Nothing wrong with blowing them out, at the same time.”
Florida State, a 10-point favorite, might just do that when the teams meet at 5:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl. The Seminoles (13-0) average 53 points per game and allow 10.7.
They have been challenged only once. Boston College took a 17-3 lead before the Seminoles came back to win 48-34. That was on Sept. 28. Florida State, the Atlantic Coast Conference champion, hasn’t trailed since that day, a span of 571 minutes and 49 seconds.
The Seminoles beat four ranked teams by a combined score of 200-35, establishing themselves as national contenders Oct. 19 with a 51-14 victory at then-No. 3 Clemson.
“They’ve been consistent all year,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “They’ve blown people away. They had zero close games. Our guys have respect for them.”
Auburn (12-1) doesn’t plan to be next in the line of blowout opponents, and in winning the Southeastern Conference, the Tigers certainly were tested.
They used a 73-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-18 to steal a victory from Georgia, and then came through with the play of the year two weeks later to beat two-time defending national champion Alabama on a 109-yard return of a missed field goal.
Auburn has been referred to as a “team of destiny,” and even the school’s postseason media guide uses that phrase on its inside front cover.
Whether the Tigers are the team meant to win it all will be answered today, but little question exists Auburn won’t panic if the game is close in the fourth quarter.
“Coach Malzahn always says, ‘If the game is close at the end, we’re going to win,’ ” said cornerback Chris Davis, who provided that big return against Alabama. “And we believe what he’s telling us.”
Auburn will give Florida State a fight if the Tigers can continue to move the ball on the ground. They average 335.7 yards rushing per game, best in the nation, and are coming off a 545-yard performance against Missouri in the SEC championship game.
Tre Mason, a Heisman finalist, rushed for 304 yards and four touchdowns in that game, and he has 1,621 yards and 22 TDs for the season. Quarterback Nick Marshall has run for 1,023 yards and 11 touchdowns, operating the option that uses deception and yet a pounding style that goes right at opponents.
“They make you cover the whole field, whether you throw or run it,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “That’s the key.”
Auburn will try to extend the SEC’s streak to eight national championships in a row, and Florida State could establish itself as one of the top teams of all time.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.