The End of An Era

7 01 2014

The BCS gave us 16 years of a system that had plenty of kinks and bumps along the way. Monday night’s game gave us plenty of missed tackles and dropped passes along the way.

In the end for both, though, was a perfect finish.

Redshirt freshman and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston had himself a very special 20th birthday party Monday night.

Winston threw a 2-yard post pass to a place only Kelvin Benjamin—the second coming of Larry Fitzgerald—could get it with 13 seconds left, and the top-seeded Florida State Seminoles took down the Auburn Tigers 34-31 to take home the final BCS national title.

This was the best national championship game since Vince Young led the Texas Longhorns to a nail-biting 41-38 victory over the USC Trojans on this exact field and in a similar game-winning drive fashion.

After a third quarter that only had one Florida State field goal, the final 12 minutes consisted of five scores and three dramatic lead changes as destiny seemed to change along with it. (Even though there won’t be much talk of defense, the fact that Florida State held Auburn to 19 rushing yards in the third quarter should be considered as a huge reason Auburn was blanked in for those 15 minutes and momentum shifted.)

The final quarter gave football fans everything they could ask for—costly interception, kickoff return for a touchdown, game-winning touchdown. Auburn’s only turnover of the game was Nick Marshall’s interception early in the fourth quarter that allowed the Seminoles to pull within one point. Auburn didn’t make many mistakes on the night, but the ones they did make were costly. (Oh Chris Davis…)

After a Tigers field goal, Levonte Whitfield then decided to Auburn Auburn…or have Auburn be Alabama’d. However you look at it, Whitfield—a man who ran a 10.1 in the 100 meters, the third-fastest in high school history—gave the Seminoles their first lead since the first quarter and the national title game its first special teams touchdown since 2007.

But as Auburn has shown all season long, resiliency is in their blood, especially in Tre Mason’s. Finishing with 195 rushing yards, the most by a running back in a BCS Championship, the 5-10 running back bulldozed his way to a 37-yard touchdown to take back the lead, leaving 1:19 on the clock. Mason striked the Heisman pose for the entire nation to see after his score, but as if the football gods were playing the role of foreshadower at that exact moment, the true Heisman was about to leave his mark.

Jameis Winston.

The kid had not experienced much adversity, for the most part, on the football field this season. He hadn’t faced a deficit since being behind 17-10 against Boston College on September 28, a game his team ended up easily winning 48-34.

The Seminoles were behind for 44 minutes and 42 seconds against the Tigers.

Monday night gave Winston plenty of adversity for any type of athlete in any sport to handle. Through the first 10 drives, he was 11-for-25 for 120 yards, giving him a 17.7 QBR. Winston looked young, inexperienced and in over his head. It looked as if the pressure Auburn’s defensive front was applying gave the youngest Heisman Trophy winner too much to handle.

But he fought back and showed maturity, proficiency and composure. In his last two drives, Winston went 9-for-10 for 117 yards—a 99.5 QBR. His final drive, in which he went 6-for-7 for 77 yards, included the beautifully thrown pass to Benjamin, who also played well down the stretch. He had all of his 54 receiving yards in the second half.

As impressive as Winston has been this season, there might not be a better indicator of his magnificence than what he showed the nation Monday night. Winston struggled for the majority of the game and had one of his worst overall performances of the season…and his team still took down the second best team in the nation. The 20-year-old proved he doesn’t need to be at his absolute best to win—and win on the biggest stage at that. He gave his team the biggest comeback win (18 points) in the BCS national championship game history by stepping up and making plays when it mattered most. That is true Heisman material.

None of this would have been possible for Winston and Florida State, though, if it wasn’t for the gutsiness of Jimbo Fisher. As Sean Payton showed us a few years back, sometimes a coach needs to reach down into his bag of tricks if he wants to reach the top. Fisher did just that, when he called for a fake punt on his own part of the field while facing a 21-3 deficit. If this hadn’t have worked out, Auburn could have put this game out of reach for good—and Fisher knew this. But he did what needed to be done by giving his team the jolt of energy necessary to come back and win this game.

Fisher also had been preparing Winston for his shining moment all season long. After the game, defensive end Mario Williams Jr. said the Seminoles coaches would put 1:15 on the clock at practice and tell the defense to stop Winston from scoring. So when Winston found himself in a place he’d never been before in an actual game, he had actually already been there throughout the season on the practice field.

The Tigers owned the stat sheet—having more first downs, rushing yards, total yards, total plays, third-down conversions, sacks, and time of possession. But they didn’t have the advantage in the one statistic that mattered—points. To put it simply, the Seminoles offense, defense, special teams and coaching staff all made the right moves when it mattered most. The Tigers might have taken out plenty of the Seminoles’ pawns and maybe even their queen, but Florida State ended with a commanding checkmate. And because of that, they dethroned the SEC from their supremacy.

As this BCS era comes to a close, we must not forget how a certain conference found a way to dominate the system to the point of its collapse. When the BCS had its first championship game in 1998, an SEC school (Tennessee) took home the crystal ball. After Auburn’s defeat, the conference appeared in a total of 10 games, claiming 9 championships. And in all actuality, the SEC appeared 11 times since the 2011 Championship showcased LSU and Alabama.  I don’t know if there is a better way to describe dominance than that right there.

Due to the power of this conference, the NCAA was forced to abandon a system that wouldn’t allow the third or fourth best team—often times an SEC team—in college football to compete for a national title. Under the new championship of the College Football Playoff, there will be a four-team playoff with no limit to the number of teams from a conference. This season, if there had been a four-team playoff decided upon by a selection committee, Florida State, Auburn, Alabama and Michigan State would have most likely faced off.

Thankfully, though, the last BCS national championship displayed a matchup between the two best teams in the nation that played a down-to-the-wire game many may never delete from their DVR.

So now we move on, and we thank you for all the good and bad you have given us, Bowl Championship Series. It has been a rollercoaster of a ride, and for me, I’m glad to have been on board. You won’t be forgotten.