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The Narrative Of The 2013 College Football Season

For eight straight years, college football had seen an SEC school come out on top. The 2013 college football season broke the SEC stranglehold on the title. In the last year before the sport went to a multi-round playoff format, the Florida State Seminoles won the national championship.

Jameis Winston was only a freshman, but the FSU quarterback was dominant. He threw 40 touchdown passes, for over 4,000 yards and completed 67 percent of his throws. Only one year after Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Winston became the second.

Winston had plenty of weapons. Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin were both 1,000-yard receivers and Kenny Shaw nearly reached that threshold himself. Devonta Freeman was a 1K rusher, and All-American Byron Stork led the way on the offensive line.

Florida State’s offense was the second-best in the nation, and the defense was even better. Lamarcus Joyner, an All-American in the secondary, keyed up a unit that surrendered the fewest points in the country.

The Seminoles were ranked #11 to start the year and they got it going on Labor Day night in Pittsburgh. The Panthers had Aaron Donald, who would merely win the Outland and Lombardi Trophies at defensive tackle. But FSU dropped 41 points in an easy win. In early October, they crushed Maryland 63-0. By October 19, Florida State was in the national top 5 and ready for a showdown with third-ranked Clemson.

Dabo Swinney’s Tigers had a prolific offense themselves Tajh Boyd tossed 34 touchdown passes and threw for over 3,800 yards. Sammy Watkins racked up over 1,400 yards receiving and Roderick McDowell was a 1,000 yard rusher. Clemson’s defense wasn’t great, but it was a Top 25 unit, and they had an All-American pass rusher in Vic Beasley. Clemson opened the year with a big 38-35 win over fifth-ranked Georgia to get into the national conversation.

If there were any doubts about Florida State’s bona fides, they were gone after what happened on October 19. The Seminoles delivered a stunning 51-14 humiliation of the Tigers. Clemson would recover and get an Orange Bowl bid. But Florida State kept barreling forward. They hammered archrival and then-#7 Miami 41-14 two weeks later. When FSU closed out the year with a 45-7 thrashing of Duke for the ACC title, the Seminoles had earned one of the two tickets to what was then called the BCS National Championship Game.

The SEC continued to be at the forefront of the conversation for who the second team would be. Alabama was the two-time defending national champion and ranked #1 to open the season. The Tide defense continued to be one of the nation’s best, anchored by Butkus Award-winner C.J. Moseley and All-American defensive back Ha-Ha Clinton Dix. A potent running game included 1,200-yard rusher T.J. Yeldon and All-American offensive lineman Cyrus Jouandijo. Amari Cooper was a big-play threat at receiver and A.J. McCarron an efficient, mistake-free quarterback.

Alabama won a high-profile shootout with Manziel and Texas A&M in mid-September, 49-42. The Tide defense tightened in a 25-0 whitewash of Ole Miss before the opening month was out. Alabama hammered LSU 38-17 in November. Nick Saban’s team was still unbeaten and still #1 in the polls when it was time to play Auburn in the Iron Bowl on Thanksgiving Saturday.

Auburn was enjoying an improbable rise under first-year head coach Gus Malzahn. The Tigers had gone 3-9 in 2012 and an early loss to LSU gave no indication anything was substantially changing. But then they started winning. A 45-41 win over Texas A&M signified the rise of Auburn and the fall of A&M in the SEC West. LSU also fell by the wayside. Auburn knocked off Georgia 43-28. By the time the Iron Bowl arrived, the Tigers were #4 and still in position to play for a national championship.

The Alabama-Auburn game of 2013 would be one for the ages. In a 21-21 tie, Cooper caught a 99-yard touchdown pass from McCarron. Auburn rallied. Dual-threat QB Nick Marshall threw a game-tying TD in the final minute. McCarron drove the Tide into position for a long field goal try.

Alabama’s field goal attempt came up short. But in a shrewd tactical move, Malzahn positioned speedy Chris Davis under the goal post. Davis fielded the ball as though it were a kickoff return. With Alabama unprepared and a slower team on the field than in kick coverage, Davis raced 100 yards for a touchdown. It became known as the “Kick-6” and it handed Auburn a shocking 34-28 upset.

The Cinderella stories were continuing on the Eastern side of the SEC. While Georgia and Florida had disappointing years, Missouri and South Carolina stepped up. The Tigers were led by 1,100-yard rusher Henry Josey and a terrific pass-rushing duo of All-American end Michael Sam and Kony Early. The Gamecocks got nearly 1,200 yards on the ground from Mike Davis and a 24-1 TD/INT ratio from quarterback Connor Shaw. South Carolina won the battle—a 27-24 win over Mizzou in late October. But the Tigers won the war—they beat Georgia and Florida, and then sealed the SEC East with a 28-21 win over Texas A&M.

Thus, an improbable SEC Championship Game between Auburn and Missouri was set up. Both still had hopes of getting a crack at Florida State. But they were going to need help.

Urban Meyer came to Ohio State in 2012 and promptly went undefeated. That Buckeye team had been on probation and was unable to play for conference or national honors. There were no such restrictions in 2013 and Ohio State played like a team with unfinished business.

Braxton Miller could both run and pass, leading an offense that ranked third nationally in points scored. Ryan Shazier was an elite playmaker on the defensive side, with 23 ½ tackles-for-loss. The Buckeyes won key conference games over ranked opponents in Wisconsin and Northwestern. A win over archrival Michigan sealed the deal on another undefeated regular season. And Alabama’s loss meant Ohio State was in the driver’s seat for the #2 spot nationally when they played in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Michigan State was the last hurdle Meyer’s team had to get past. The Spartans had an elite defensive unit. The secondary was led by Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard and Shilique Calhoun was a great pass rusher on the edge. Sparty’s offense wasn’t great, but they could run the ball—Jeremy Langford went for over 1,400 yards.

Championship Saturday came in early December. In the mid-afternoon, Auburn and Missouri staged a shootout. It was a rare shootout in that a lot of explosions came on the ground. Auburn ran for a stunning 545 yards. Tre Mason, an 1,800-yard rusher on the year had a no less stunning 304 yards individually. Auburn won 59-42.

That night, Michigan State delivered a shocker of their own—a 34-24 upset that claimed the Big Ten title. Ohio State would settle for an Orange Bowl date with Clemson. Alabama was going to the Sugar Bowl. And Auburn, the Little Engine That Could, was going to play Florida State for all the marbles.

As for Michigan State, they were going to the Rose Bowl. The other end of the race for Pasadena was a high-level fight between Oregon and Stanford, who each opened the season in the national top 5.

Stanford’s success was about defense and the running game. The Cardinal ranked 10th nationally in points allowed, led by All-American outside linebacker Trent Murphy. The offense had an All-American of their own up front, with David Yankey, and that paved the way for Tyler Gaffney to go over 1,700 yards rushing.

Oregon had a 1K rusher and receiver, Byron Marshall and Josh Huff, respectively. Marcus Mariota pulled the trigger on a great offense. Mariota threw 31 TDs against just four interceptions and the Ducks scored the fourth-most points in the country.

On November 7, Stanford won the head-to-head showdown, 26-20, putting them in position to survive a stretch drive where both teams lost a game. The Cardinal then crushed Arizona State 38-14 in the Pac-12 Championship Game. For the second straight year, Stanford was Rose Bowl-bound.

No one in the country scored more points in 2013 than the Baylor Bears. Bryce Petty rang up 4,200 yards throwing the ball. His TD/INT ratio was a dazzling 32-3. Antwaan Goodley was a 1,300-yard receiver and Lache Seastrunk ran for almost 1,200 yards.

The Bears barreled through their first nine games, highlighted by a 41-12 crushing of Oklahoma. A bad 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State ended the national championship hopes, but Baylor still finished 11-1, won the Big 12 title and went to the Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma didn’t have a vintage year, as evidenced by the blowout loss to Baylor. The Sooners weren’t dominant on either side of the ball, and there were no stars who had seasons that stood out. But Bob Stoops’ program showed it could just keep churning out wins. They went to South Bend and beat Notre Dame in September. OU knocked off 10th-ranked Texas Tech in October.

Then, in the season finale against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma hit a parlay. They ruined their archrivals’ hopes of a conference championship with a 33-24 win—and that win also got them a Sugar Bowl bid and a chance to play Alabama.

The major bowl lineup was filled out by Central Florida. The Knights got a big year from quarterback Blake Bortles, who threw for 3,500 yards. UCF had a 1,100-yard rusher in Storm Johnson. Their only loss was a close one to South Carolina. Central Florida’s 38-35 win over Louisville was the signature game in the American Conference. With an 11-1 final record, UCF was paired up with Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.

The run of major bowls began with the Rose on New Year’s Day. In a classic, old-school game between two physical teams that ran the football, Michigan State edged Stanford 24-20. That night in Tempe, the pace was a little more up-tempo. Central Florida made a statement for the mid-major conferences by beating Baylor 52-42.

Over the next two nights, Alabama and Ohio State continued their fall from grace. From having once been in line to play each other for the national championship, they not only lost that chance, but then lost their bowl games. Oklahoma beat Alabama 45-31, and Clemson knocked off Ohio State 40-35.

The title game was played in Pasadena on the first Monday of January. It was labeled as a battle between Auburn’s destiny and Florida State’s dominance. For the first half, destiny kept riding high and built a 21-3 lead. Dominance rallied and cut the lead to 21-20. Then came a wild frenzy over the game’s final five minutes.

Auburn kicked a field goal to extend the lead to four points. FSU returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. The Tigers drove right back for a TD of their own. But Winston got the ball last, and he had the last word—a touchdown pass in the closing minute gave Florida State an epic 34-31 win and a national championship.

2013 was the last year of the BCS. College football fans were ready to say good riddance and welcome in the four-team playoff that would begin in 2014. But what a finale the ’13 season had given to the old era.