BCS National Championship Game: 9 Takeaways From Florida State’s Wild Win

The 2013 college football season is over and for the first time in fourteen years, the Florida State Seminoles are national champions. The Seminoles won a wild 34-31 battle over the Auburn Tigers on Monday night in Pasadena, rallying from 21-3 down in the first half and 31-27 with 1:19 to play in the game. Let’s bring the year to a close with the Notebook Nine, our nine key points to take away from the BCS National Championship Game

college football bowl history*The Five-Minute Frenzy is a frontrunner for the greatest moment of the sports year 2013 (covering March Madness through the Super Bowl). Auburn kicked a field goal to take a 24-20 lead, Florida State got a 100-yard kickoff return, Auburn’s Tre Mason had a 37-yard touchdown run and finally the Seminoles win it with 13 seconds left. There are other big moments in 2013—Ray Allen’s lifesaving three for the Miami Heat, to David Ortiz’ ALCS-altering grand slam, but the Five Minute Frenzy is going to be tough to beat.

*A poll on ESPN.com is asking where this game ranks in the annals of national championship games, with the options being first, second or lower. I had chose lower. The 2005 Texas-USC game gets an edge because there were a lot of coaching what-ifs in that game. The 1983 Miami-Nebraska game ranks higher because it was a seminal moment in the history of college football. The 1986 Penn State-Miami game was an upset of massive proportions. Florida State-Auburn of 2013 was a great game, but it didn’t have the outside storylines that other candidates had.

*Does Florida State’s win mean the era of SEC dominance is over? I say yes. This does not mean the SEC isn’t the best conference in college football. Their 6-3 bowl record demonstrated quality up and down the ladder, unmatched anywhere else. But a core premise of the SEC—one that I shared—was that the league was more than just the top-ranked conference, it was in a world all its own, to be virtually guaranteed a spot in the national title game. You can’t have both of your BCS bowl teams, including Alabama, lose and still make that claim.

*I’m going to contest one key media premise, which is that Auburn miraculously played over its head in building an early lead, before Florida State just restored order and won the game. I think the Tigers could repeat last night’s performance if the teams played again. I believe they could run the ball, and at least have their moments on defense. The SEC might not be in a world all its own anymore, but it’s in a different world than the ACC, and you could clearly see how different each team looked once they stepped out of their conferences.

*I completely agree with something Florida State head coach Jimbo Fischer said in the postgame, and it’s that Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston showed his greatness by being able to turn around a poor performance in the fourth quarter. Even when it looked like FSU was going to lose, I was impressed with the way Winston obviously kept his poise and kept competing, when it would have been easy for him to lose confidence. The history of Heisman winners in bowl games isn’t very good and Winston at least overcame that when the money was on the table.

*Florida State’s win means this won’t matter, but I felt they had a gripe with the officials. A facemask penalty on Winston was missed at a key point in the first half. A horse-collar tackle on FSU’s game-winning drive was missed. And the decision to flag Devonta Freeman for taunting after a touchdown and push the Seminoles back to the 18-yard line for the PAT/2-point play was over the top. Freeman was on the hash mark and yelled at the Auburn sideline. Intelligent it wasn’t, but there needs to be a distinction between taunting from afar and getting in someone’s face. Florida State would have surely gone for two—they trailed 21-13 in the fourth quarter. And as the quarter progressed, even trailing 31-27 rather than potentially 31-28 might have proved significant. If you want to give the ref an option for a five-yard “misdemeanor” taunting, I’d have been good with that, but 15 yards and possibly settling a national title on this was too much.

*Winston was named Offensive MVP of the game, which again has me wondering why anyone even bothers to vote on these awards, when the quarterback of the winning team gets it even when there is a much more obvious candidate. How is anyone other than Auburn running back Tre Mason the MVP? Mason had 195 yards and his 37-yard jaunt that appeared to win it for the Tigers was a run of beauty, as he slashed between the tackles, ran people over and got into the open field.

*A key moment came on 2nd-and-16 early in the fourth quarter. Auburn had the ball and a 21-13 lead. I remember thinking at the time that Tiger coach Gus Malzahn needed to be very careful. His defense was playing well and the down and distance was inviting trouble. Sure enough, Marshall threw an interception and Florida State cashed it in. I guess you can’t second-guess throwing the ball on 2nd-and-16, but my spidey-senses were going off at that point to just play it safe.

*The biggest momentum-changer was Fisher’s decision to call a fake punt towards the end of the first half, on his own side of the field, trailing 21-3. FSU converted and scored a touchdown. I’m not sure if this was a call I could defend even if it hadn’t worked. If Auburn stops it, they can put the game away by halftime. Whether it’s desperate or brilliant, it was a big cajones call by Fisher, comparable only to when Sean Payton of the New Orleans Saints called for an onside kick at a big moment in the Super Bowl in 2009.

And that’s a wrap on our 2013 college football season. TheSportsNotebook will soon have a complete compilation of all blog posts written available for download as an e-book, enabling readers to track the season from the previews of August through the early non-conference battles, to the heat of conference play and finally a game-by-game tracking of the bowl season. Congratulations to Fisher and Florida State, and also to Malzahn’s Auburn team, who engineered a turnaround that might be common in the NFL these days, but just doesn’t happen in college football.

TheSportsNotebook made picks on each bowl game this year, both against the spread, and the Over/Under. That’s 70 picks in all, and I ended up 37-33, a winning record that constitutes a bigger turnaround than what Malzahn pulled off. I still had a losing 16-19 record ATS—some bowl traditions have to be kept intact—but a 21-14 run on the totals put me in the black.  A final cash-in on Auburn (+11) and Under 67 was able to close it out.