Florida State Seminoles: bcs championship 2013

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NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- The Heisman Trophy winner got the boot.

In one of the final practices leading up to the Vizio BCS National Championship, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher kicked quarterback Jameis Winston out of practice during a two-minute drill.

[+] EnlargeKarlos Williams and Jimbo Fisher
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher says his Seminoles will need to keep their edge if they want to compete for another national title in 2014.
Really? Tossed the Heisman winner?

Fisher chuckled.

“Yes, I did,” he said. “I sent him to the locker room.”

Fisher said he didn’t like Winston’s mindset in that particular situation and wanted to teach Winston that the moment wasn’t about him winning the game alone. A two-minute drill is about using the players around him and being wary of the clock.

“[The clock is] No. 1, the opponent is No. 2, and the mindset you have to have going in, which he had all year,” Fisher said, “I just saw it drifting.”

What a timely lesson to be learned.

In the final two minutes of a 34-31 win over Auburn on Monday night, Winston drove the Noles 80 yards in seven plays, using the elite talent he had around him and capping the game-winning drive with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds to spare.

The national champs are still young. They’re still learning -- and that includes the best player in the country, who celebrated his 20th birthday with a national title. Winston is not going anywhere next season.

Don’t expect the program to either.

“I think it’s going to look very similar to who you’re seeing right now,” Fisher said. “I think there may be one or two [players] I’ve got to have serious conversations with, but … this is an extremely young football team.”

Despite a roster oozing with NFL talent and the draft looming this spring, Fisher didn’t seem the slightest bit concerned about the possibility of losing many players early. He said there are only three seniors on offense and “maybe one” player who might leave early. He said “maybe three guys max” on defense might leave.

“Those guys are having a good time here, and we have some great young players coming in behind those guys,” he said. “So I think this team will look very, very similar to the one you just saw.”

Florida State’s biggest challenge will not be the 2014 NFL draft. It will be avoiding complacency -- a hurdle Fisher's mentor has mastered at Alabama.

In the few hours following Fisher’s first national title as a head coach, he shared some private conversations with good friend and Alabama coach Nick Saban. Saban’s wife, Terry, called Fisher on Tuesday morning, and Saban and Fisher joked about being “a couple of old hillbillies from those coal mines that came on and became football coaches.”

Much like Winston, Fisher said he learned a few lessons along the way too. He remembered how “back in the '80s,” when he was a graduate assistant, he would sit around at the Bowden Academy and soak up every word the coaches had to say while sitting around the pool at night. He talked about how Bobby Bowden influenced him and helped him by stepping away from the program for a bit and giving him the freedom to develop the program his own way. Fisher also talked about the lessons he learned from Saban when he left LSU in 2004.

“You’ve got to go back to ground zero, and you can’t worry about expectations,” Fisher said. “You’ve got to play it. … But I think that’s the thing: Once expectations get so high, is to not let complacency set in.

“You can’t lose that edge,” he added. “If you ever lose that edge, that chip on your shoulder, you’re just another team. I don’t care how talented you are. This team has to go back, get its own identity, get its own leadership and develop that, and that’s going to be our challenge now. It’s how hungry can you stay to be able to do it over and over again.”

It’s a lesson Fisher is more than willing to pass on.

Video: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
2:00
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ACC reporter Heather Dinich talks with Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin following the Seminoles' 34-31 victory in the Vizio BCS National Championship.
In a game as good as Monday’s Vizio BCS National Championship, there are countless storylines to dissect in the aftermath. And as Florida State soaks in its third national championship, we’re only beginning to fully appreciate the effort it took for the Seminoles to get here. So while the celebration in Tallahassee continues, here’s a brief look at some of the most underrated storylines from FSU’s absurd 34-31 win over Auburn.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State RB Devonta Freeman became the first 1,000-yard rusher for the Seminoles since 1996.
Quest for 1,000, Part I: It was an otherwise uninteresting 4-yard rumble on first down late in the third quarter, but it was one of the most statistically significant rushes in Florida State history. The run put Devonta Freeman at exactly 1,000 yards for the season, making him the first FSU back to reach that mark since Warrick Dunn in 1996 and ending the longest active 1,000-yard rusher drought in college football. Freeman finished the season with 1,016 yards and 14 touchdowns. More importantly, he was a crucial part of the offense when Jameis Winston struggled early Monday, finishing with 94 all-purpose yards and a touchdown.

Quest for 1,000, Part II: Freeman’s 1,000th yard came late. Rashad Greene's came early. The junior wide receiver cracked the mark with the second of his nine catches in the title game, finishing the season with 1,128 receiving yards. He’s the first FSU receiver to crack 1,000 since Anquan Boldin did it in 2002. Greene’s impact Monday was huge. He was the only FSU receiver to catch a pass for positive yardage in the first half, and he was responsible for 40 percent of Winston’s targets in the game. Most significant: He had 57 yards on two catches on the winning drive.

Quest for 1,000, Part III: And if Freeman and Greene weren’t enough, sophomore receiver Kelvin Benjamin became the third FSU player to join the 1,000-yard club with his penultimate grab, a crucial 21-yard catch early in the fourth quarter that set up Florida State’s second touchdown. Benjamin ends the season with 1,011 yards. It was a frustrating game at times for Benjamin, who was shut out in the first half and had two crucial second-half drops that ended drives. His final two catches, however, were essential, including the winning touchdown grab.

Special teams was big: Kermit Whitfield's kick return for a score was obviously a turning point in the game, but it was hardly the only crucial play on special teams. The first half, in many ways, was defined by two momentum-shifting punts. The first, by Auburn’s Steven Clark, pinned FSU at its own 2-yard line. Cason Beatty's punt on the ensuing drive netted just 22 yards, and Auburn scored easily to take a 7-3 lead. Tack on three lucky saves in a row for Auburn after muffed punts, the 15-yard penalty that kept FSU from going for two early in the fourth quarter and, perhaps most significant, a missed 33-yard field goal by Auburn's Cody Parkey early in the second quarter and special teams swung the momentum of the game in either direction again and again. As for Whitfield, the true freshman touched the ball just 25 times in 2013 but racked up 818 yards and four touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception led to a touchdown that pulled the Seminoles within one point.
FSU’s young stars: The three biggest plays in the game for Florida State came from Winston (game-winning TD drive), P.J. Williams (game-saving interception) and Whitfield (game-changing kick return). That trio’s total accomplishments prior to this season: 14 tackles by Williams, largely on special teams. In other words, this veteran team that Jimbo Fisher has been slowly building for years won the national title in large part because of the contributions of three players who’d barely seen the field before the start of 2013. That’s a good sign for 2014 at Florida State, too.

Pruitt’s big adjustment: To open the game, FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought pressure on Nick Marshall often, and it wasn’t entirely successful. The Tigers’ QB burned the Seminoles deep on several big plays. But Pruitt adjusted, was more conservative down the stretch, and it worked. Marshall was just 7-of-17 passing with an interception when Florida State brought four or fewer pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Jernigan’s impact: The stat sheet shows just nine tackles, but anyone who watched Monday’s game knows Timmy Jernigan meant so much more for Florida State’s defense. He was a beast up the middle, shutting down Auburn’s vaunted run game for long stretches and offering next to nothing between the tackles. He clogged gaps and allowed linebacker Telvin Smith to step up and record a game-high 15 tackles. He flushed Marshall out of the pocket repeatedly. Of course, Jernigan was also completely gassed by the end, relegated to the sideline for much of Auburn’s final two scoring drives, and the Tigers’ success without Jernigan in the game was the ultimate proof of what an impact FSU’s under-the-radar defensive tackle actually made.

Winston’s rebound: There were two resounding narratives regarding Florida State entering the game. The first was that Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, would have a field day against an overmatched Auburn secondary. The second was that the untested Seminoles wouldn’t know how to handle a close game in the fourth quarter. It just goes to show that the pregame predictions often don’t amount to much. Winston’s unwavering confidence this season -- particularly on the prime-time stage -- has been Florida State’s hallmark. The “do it big” speech has been played again and again, but Winston was hardly that guy during the first three quarters Monday. His footwork was a mess. He was off target on throws. He was hesitant to release the ball, choosing again and again to tuck and run. He rarely looked downfield in spite of those supposed mismatches for his receiving corps. And yet, when the game was on the line, the QB who’d thrown just 25 fourth-quarter passes all season rebounded by completing 9 of 11 for 117 yards and two touchdowns in the game’s final quarter.

It really was about his teammates: If there was a mantra Winston stuck to this season throughout all the highs and lows, it was that the season -- and his success -- was built on the backs of his teammates. Monday’s national championship proved him right. While Winston struggled early, so many others stepped up. Freeman moved the ball on the ground. Greene provided a reliable target. Fisher called a brilliant fake punt that Karlos Williams managed to execute perfectly. Whitfield returned a kick for a score. The defense held Auburn scoreless on five straight drives -- forcing a turnover along the way -- while Winston slowly chipped away at a 21-3 deficit. Yes, it was the Heisman winner who delivered the winning drive with 1:19 to play, but it was Greene’s spectacular run after a catch and Benjamin’s unparalleled ability to go up for a ball in the end zone that made the difference. For Florida State, 2013 really was about team, no matter how good (or, in Monday’s case, shaky) Winston was along the way.

Wait is over for Florida State

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
3:28
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PASADENA, Calif. -- As the Florida State players emerged from the locker room for the second half of Monday night’s VIZIO BCS National Championship, their confidence unwavering in spite of falling behind against Auburn, receiver Kelvin Benjamin said they all agreed in the huddle that “this is our time.”

Florida State had waited long enough.

With the program’s first national title since 1999 on the line, Florida State found one big play after another -- the kind of explosive, big gains they had made look so easy all season but were so hard to come by against Auburn. It wasn’t just Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who had been pressured all night by Auburn’s defensive line, who delivered in the clutch. It was freshman Kermit Whitfield, one of the fastest young players in the country, whose jaw-dropping, 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter changed the game with blazing speed. It was Rashad Greene, whose ability to split two defenders and run 49 yards off a screen pass extended the game-winning drive. It was Benjamin, whose otherwise quiet night was overshadowed by the game-winning touchdown.

One thing it wasn’t: all about conference supremacy.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return was just one of many big plays the Seminoles used to win their first national title since 1999.
While so much has been made about the ACC versus the SEC, Monday night’s moment of celebrating a 34-31 win over Auburn was for Florida State, and only Florida State. The Seminoles earned it, collectively. As the players made their way to the locker room after the game, clutching roses between their teeth and already wearing their new hats and T-shirts proclaiming them national champs, it was a celebration of an improbable come-from-behind win -- and more than a decade of waiting for the return to No. 1.

“I have to say, it’s been a four-year evolution to put ourselves in this opportunity,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. “We talked about being a program, and we wanted to do things right, and we wanted to build the foundation, and these guys have given their hearts and souls to us as coaches and it’s been unbelievable.”

So was the game -- the last of the BCS era.

Florida State’s comeback from 18 points down was the largest in BCS national championship game history. The Noles trailed 21-3 with 5:01 left in the second quarter. It looked like a dud, a collapse on the game’s biggest stage. Florida State’s strength of schedule was once again called into question. So was its offense. And its defense.

None of the players, though, flinched.

“When you train like we do and practice the way we practice, it’s a habit to go out and play hard and compete,” Greene said. “We weren’t worried. I wasn’t nervous at all. Even when they scored and there wasn’t much time on the clock. Honest to god, I still knew we were going to win the game.”

At halftime, Fisher prodded his team to keep blocking on kickoff returns because “Kermit’s going to pop one anytime now.”

Nobody else saw it coming -- and Auburn couldn’t stop it.

Whitfield’s return was the first special teams touchdown in the national title game since 2007, and it gave FSU a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left in the game. Fisher said Whitfield ran a 10.1 in the 100 meters, the third-fastest time in high school history.

“He has great hips, great acceleration, he’s learning our offense and getting the touches,” Fisher said. “But in the open field, he’s as dynamic as anybody in America.”

With Auburn being such an opportunistic team, though, it wasn’t enough. Auburn responded with a touchdown on the next drive to take the 31-27 lead, and Florida State had 1:19 left to win a national title.

From FSU’s own 28-yard line, Winston found Greene for 49 yards, and two plays later the Noles were in the red zone. Greene said he saw “green grass and one defender,” so he got as many yards as he could before stepping out of bounds.

“I knew those guys were physical corners, physical defenders, so it was my job to get physical back with them and create some type of separation, and I was able to do it,” Greene said. “We definitely had that calm mentality, just take a little at a time and they’ll definitely come, and [the big plays] came at the end.”

Indeed, it was finally their time.
Having watched Florida State rally from 18 points down to defeat Auburn, 34-31, in one of the best BCS National Championship games, the Noles’ 2014 recruiting contingent is eager to help defend the title next season.

Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau C.C.), the No. 8 junior college player nationally, might be the most developed 2014 recruit and has the best chance to start in his first year in Tallahassee. The four-star offensive tackle could be Jameis Winston’s blindside protector in 2014 if Cameron Erving declares for the 2014 NFL draft.

Mavety is ready if called upon.

“I can’t wait,” Mavety said minutes after FSU’s win. “[Monday’s] game showed how Florida State is a true family and stick by each other no matter what. [I'm] blessed to have the opportunity to help contribute to another [national title] next year.”

One player who is graduating is center Bryan Stork, which means three-star interior lineman Alec Eberle (Mechanicsville, Va./Atlee) might be asked to play early alongside Mavety.

“I can’t wait to get down there and officially be a part of a national championship team,” he said. “The game was great, I always knew they’d pull it out.”



While nearly all of the Noles’ 2014 commitments watched from afar in the comforts of home, the potential heir to Winston traveled 3,000 miles to Pasadena to cheer -- and celebrate -- with future teammates. Quarterback commit J.J. Cosentino (Pittsburgh/Central Catholic), the No. 10 pocket passer in the ESPN 300, was at the Rose Bowl to experience the Noles’ championship in person.



Three-star tight end Ryan Izzo (Sparta, N.J./Pope John XXIII) was glad to see his future coaches and quarterback hold up the crystal football.

“Just so happy for Coach Brew and Coach Fisher plus Jameis with all the stuff he went through, great to see him on top,” Izzo said. “One of the best games I’ve ever seen. I’m proud to be a part of Nole Nation.”

Florida State has 29 commitments in 2014 but plans to sign more than 30, and the championship has already altered some perceptions of uncommitted FSU targets. Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), No. 68 in the ESPN 300, took to Twitter to express his excitement following Kelvin Benjamin's go-ahead score.



Four-star offensive lineman Frank Ragnow (Victoria, Minn./Chanhassen) officially visited the Seminoles in December, and he said Florida State will be in contention for his signature until the end of his recruitment.

“Unreal game, fun to watch and pretty humbling knowing the No. 1 team in the country, the national champions want you to play football for them,” Ragnow said. “They’re a great young team with a lot of young guys and a good recruiting class coming in. It’s exactly why they’re one of my top schools.”

Title Game Live: In-game chat wrap

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
1:00
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The BCS went out with a bang. After one of the most dramatic fourth quarters in title-game history, Florida State beat Auburn 34-31 and ended the SEC's streak of seven straight national championships.

We were discussing it with you during all of the drama in yet another entertaining BCS game chat. Relive it all here, along with our postgame analysis and videos/pics from the field in Pasadena.

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Love it or hate it, the BCS delivered a dramatic and fitting ending on Monday night, as No. 1 FSU rallied from from a late four-point deficit in the final two minutes to defeat No. 2 Auburn 34-31 in the final VIZIO BCS National Championship at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Seminoles won their third national championship and ended the SEC's reign of seven consecutive BCS national championships.

Play of the game: Trailing 31-27 with about one minute to go, Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston threw a 49-yard pass to Rashad Greene to move to Auburn's 23-yard line with 56 seconds to play. Six players later, after Auburn was penalized for pass interference in the end zone, Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin to go ahead for good with 13 seconds to play. FSU's extra point gave it a 34-31 lead.

Turning point: After Auburn took a 24-20 lead with about 4:42 to go, FSU's Levonte Whitfield returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. Whitfield, a 5-foot-7 freshman known as "Kermit," returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second time this season.

Early turning point: With Auburn holding a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall lofted a 50-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Ray to stake the Tigers to a 14-3 lead with 13:48 to go in the first half. Ray, a sophomore from Tallahassee, Fla., had four catches for 58 yards this season before hauling in the long touchdown catch against the hometown Seminoles. FSU, which hadn't trailed since falling behind Boston College on Sept. 28 and had led for more than 571 minutes of football before falling behind the Tigers, suddenly trailed by two scores. The Seminoles played catch-up the rest of the night but finally caught the Tigers in the end.

Player of the game: Winston, a redshirt freshman from Bessemer, Ala., got off to a slow start against Auburn's defense, getting sacked four times and fumbling once in the first half. But in the end, Winston broke the Heisman Trophy jinx, throwing the winning touchdown with 13 seconds to play. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards with two touchdowns.

What it means: The controversial BCS era ends with the SEC being denied its eighth consecutive national championship, which should sit well with college football fans outside of the SEC. In a game in which the SEC seemed most vulnerable during its championship streak, the Tigers jumped out to a 21-3 lead but couldn't hold on for a victory. The Tigers were denied their second BCS national championship since the 2010 season, when they defeated Oregon 22-19 in the BCS National Championship behind quarterback Cam Newton. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn missed becoming only the second coach -- Miami's Larry Coker was the first -- to lead his team to the national title in his first season since the BCS began in 1998.

Stat that matters: 2-for-12: Florida State won despite going 2-for-12 on third down.

What's next: Florida State will probably be a popular choice to be the No. 1 team in preseason polls heading into the 2014 season. FSU will have to replace several key pieces on defense, including linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. But the Seminoles will bring back Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, along with several of their most important players on offense. Auburn, which reached the BCS national championship in Malzahn's first season, will be among the SEC West favorites in 2014, along with Alabama and LSU. The Tigers will bring back Marshall, but they'll have to wait to see if junior tailback Tre Mason returns to school or enters next spring's NFL draft. Auburn's very young defense will be a lot wiser in coordinator Ellis Johnson's second season, too.

BCS National Championship preview

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
3:37
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To watch on your smartphone, click here.

Host Chantel Jennings checks in with ESPN.com national writer Mark Schlabach and reporter Heather Dinich, who is on site at the Rose Bowl for Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship.

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher talked about his preparation for Auburn on Sunday morning, casually mentioning that he keeps “a running record of all the guys we've played against and books on all the guys we've ever played against for the last 10, 15, years.”

The past 10, 15 years?

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFSU coach Jimbo Fisher has plenty of information on Auburn heading into tonight's national title game.
And you thought a month was a long time to prepare for the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

“We see everything,” Fisher said. “We have a lot of guys on our staff [who] have played against [Auburn coach] Gus [Malzahn] for a long time. They know a lot of his high school roots, they know a lot of people he was around and things he did.”

With so much crossover in the coaching profession, there are few true secrets anymore.

Everything is on film, and the Seminoles have a library full of it. Florida State’s staff has seen hints of Auburn in their games against Clemson, where offensive coordinator Chad Morris uses a Malzahn blueprint. Fisher has seen what Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson likes to do, because Fisher played against Johnson when he was at Mississippi State and South Carolina.

“We research all the way back on all those guys, and we've got a running record of all those guys, and we check all that stuff,” Fisher said.

It’s not just Auburn.

Florida State keeps every practice schedule from preparing for each opponent to every film breakdown. The Seminoles keep all of their notes from the end of each game -- what they did well, what they did poorly, things they’d do differently, big plays, critical plays, what was called when the game was on the line.

“You have a list of those things, and we keep a file on everybody, offense, defense. We've done it for years and you file them away,” Fisher said, “and when you play them again, you pull them out and see how they change or what they've done and things like that just to keep a running record of guys you play, because, whether in the conference [or nonconference], in this business you cross over so much.”

In fact, Florida State’s staff has so much information on Auburn, Fisher said they have to be careful of not trying to do too much Monday night.

“You have to play five more games to get all the plays in you want,” he said. “You have to make sure you keep doing things you do well.”

Both coaches are playing for their first national title tonight, so information overload is to be expected. Malzahn could become just the fourth coach in the poll era (since 1936) to win a national championship in his first season at a school. Malzahn said self-scouting is just as important as researching the opponent.

“Yeah, I think any time you have 30 days, you're going to have all the information and then some, and then as a coach, you've just got to filter all that and predict the best you can on what they're going to do offensively, defensively and special teams, and then I think it's very important that you self-scout yourself,” he said. “So we've tried to do a great job of that, even like we're our own opponent just to see what they're seeing, and then you match up.”

Both teams are likely to add a few wrinkles tonight, but odds are there are few true surprises.

Here’s a quick preview of Monday night’s VIZIO BCS National Championship (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN):

Who to watch: Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The Heisman Trophy winner, who will be playing for a national title on his 20th birthday, has a chance to become the first freshman quarterback to win a national championship. Only one sophomore or freshman starting quarterback has ever won the BCS National Championship, and that was Alabama's AJ McCarron as a sophomore. Winston can also become just the third quarterback since 1950 to go undefeated with a national championship and a Heisman Trophy all in the same season. Winston, who has dominated the headlines both on and off the field this season, has proved to be the game’s best player, but Auburn is confident in defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s game plan to pressure him into uncharacteristic mistakes.

What to watch: Florida State’s defensive line against Auburn’s offensive line. This matchup will feature two of the nation’s best fronts, which both feature future NFL talent. Auburn’s strength all season has been its running game, and the Tigers have no plans of abandoning that now. The Seminoles, though, have every intent of slowing the Tigers down and forcing them to win with their passing game. Auburn has run on 71 percent of its plays, the highest percentage for any non-triple-option offense in the FBS. The Tigers lead the nation in rushing yards per game and runs of 25 yards or more. Tre Mason leads the SEC in almost every major rushing category, and his seven 100-yard rushing games against SEC defenses are the most in a season for any player in the last 10 seasons. FSU leads the nation in scoring defense, though, and is No. 13 in the country in rushing defense.

Why to watch: The SEC’s streak of seven straight national titles is on the line, and if Auburn wins, the conference will have claimed 10 of the 16 BCS titles. The last time an SEC team lost a true national championship game to a team from outside the conference was when Nebraska beat Florida to end the 1995 season (1996 Fiesta Bowl). Auburn is also playing for the fifth straight national title for the state of Alabama. With wins over then-No. 1 Alabama and then-No. 5 Missouri in its previous two games, Auburn has a chance to become the first team in college football history to win three consecutive games against top-five teams. For Florida State, it’s the program’s first appearance in the BCS National Championship in 13 years. Both coaches -- Auburn’s Guz Malzahn and FSU’s Jimbo Fisher -- are playing for their first national titles. It’s also historic, as this year’s game will be the last in the current BCS system before the four-team College Football Playoff begins next season.

Prediction: Florida State 38, Auburn 35. The Tigers have been a team of destiny this season, while the Seminoles have been a team of dominance. Florida State is the deeper, more talented team, and that will show against an Auburn defense that has been average this year. While the key to the game is up front, and whether FSU can slow down Auburn’s running game, the difference will be in the likes of Winston, FSU wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Seminoles running back Devonta Freeman. It’s not that Auburn can’t pass the ball -- quarterback Nick Marshall’s Hail Mary beat Georgia -- but Florida State does it better. If Auburn is trailing and gets behind in down and distance, Florida State’s defense -- particularly the secondary with Lamarcus Joyner -- will be too good for the likes of Sammie Coates to bail the Tigers out. Monday is the day the SEC’s streak comes to an end and Florida State returns to the pinnacle of college football.

Dinich: How to handle FSU's defense

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
12:30
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The 20th-ranked Coastal Division champs couldn't do it. No. 7 and then-undefeated Miami couldn't do it. Heck, even No. 3 Clemson couldn't muster more than two touchdowns against Florida State's defense. Will No. 2 Auburn?

Maybe -- if it follows the Boston College blueprint.

One thing Auburn and Boston College had in common this season was their ability to run the ball, writes Heather Dinich.


When Dameyune Craig left Florida State to return to his alma mater, he was leaving behind a national championship contender and a potential Heisman Trophy quarterback in Jameis Winston. It’s no wonder Craig turned down Auburn the first time they offered.

[+] EnlargeDameyune Craig
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsDameyune Craig's return to Auburn helped the Tigers land Nick Marshall and develop their receivers.
But it wasn't the talent and future success that made it such a difficult decision. It was his relationship with Winston, the quarterback he was responsible for bringing to Tallahassee. Craig had served as a mentor, a father figure and a friend to the Seminoles’ redshirt freshman.

“Without Coach Craig being in my life -- he was a good reason why I came to Florida State,” Winston said. “He kept me on the right path. He used to call me every morning. If he had one of his visions or something, 5 in the morning he’d call me and let me know, ‘Aye Jaboo, don’t do this.’ Coach Craig’s got a lot of visions.”

The relationship began when Winston was a sophomore in high school. Craig had just become the new quarterbacks coach at Florida State, and it didn't take long for him to make Winston a recruiting priority.

It helped that Craig could relate to Winston. He, too, was a star quarterback from the state of Alabama. While at Auburn, he set numerous passing records, including completions (216) and passing yards (3,227) in a single season. He led the Tigers to 10 wins in 1997. He was who Winston wanted to be at the next level.

“Just talking to him, meeting his family and everything, I see him as me,” Winston said at Saturday’s BCS media day. “When I grow up, I want to be like him.”

Craig also made an impact on Winston’s family. He was the first recruiter to bypass the high school coach and talk directly with Jameis’ father, Antonor Winston.

“He was willing to break through the walls,” Antonor said. “Coaching-wise, you never go to a school for a coach because they could be a dime a dozen. As a mentor, Dameyune just understood Jameis. He said some stuff that nobody would think about saying about Jameis, and it came to pass.”

According to Antonor, Craig told his son that if Jameis went to Auburn, he would start as a true freshman. If he chose Alabama, he might make some people mad because he would take AJ McCarron’s spot. But at Florida State, he could redshirt his first year, learn from future NFL quarterback EJ Manuel and focus on his baseball career, too.

That’s what the family wanted to hear. It was a win-win situation. So Winston, the No. 1 quarterback and No. 14 prospect in the 2012 ESPN 300, signed with the Seminoles.

“Coach Craig doesn't get enough credit for bringing Jameis there,” Antonor said. “Their relationship -- Jameis knew leaving home, Dameyune was going to make him do right. He got recruited by a lot of schools and a lot of recruiters, but I don’t think anybody came in and cared about Jameis’ well-being the way he did.”

It couldn't have worked out better for the prized recruit. Jameis redshirted his first year with football. In the spring, he started 30 games for the baseball team that ended up reaching the super regionals. And this season, with expectations high, he took over as Florida State’s starting quarterback and led the Seminoles to an undefeated season and a spot in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJameis Winston spent his redshirt season under Craig's tutelage.
The only downside? Craig wasn't there to be a part of it. He left after Winston’s freshman year, a decision that was difficult for Winston and his family.

“It hit me pretty hard,” Jameis said. “I didn't really express that because I had to talk to Coach [Jimbo] Fisher about it. I was sad when Coach Craig left because it was unexpected. I had talked to him about it, and I knew he had done the right thing for him. I trusted him and told him I supported him the whole way.

“I told him, ‘Coach Craig, if you gotta go, then go. Because I’m going to be with you no matter what.’”

Little did Winston know, he’d be going against his former mentor and coach in Monday’s national championship game.

The decision to leave Florida State for Auburn worked out for Craig, too. He works with the wide receivers now, but he helped recruit quarterback Nick Marshall, who has been instrumental in the Tigers’ miracle season. The two have already developed a relationship similar to what Craig had with Winston.

“He’s the same type of guy,” Marshall said. “He doesn't let anything change. What’s his is ours. That’s with all the coaches. If we have anything to talk about, we can call any one of our coaches on the coaching staff and just talk to them about it. It’s like another dad to us.”

However, Craig will always hold a special place in his heart for Winston and his family. It’s the reason Winston mentioned Craig in his Heisman Trophy speech. It’s the reason Winston deleted Craig’s number from his phone -- he was afraid he’d be tempted to call his former coach. It’s the reason why Monday’s game won’t affect their relationship.

“I don’t think he’s concentrating on beating me,” Winston said. “He’s concentrating on beating Florida State. It’s just like I’m not concentrating on beating him, because at the end of the day, win or lose, me and him are going to remain the same. He’s going to be happy for me if we win. I’m going to be happy for him if they win.”


NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson wouldn't have missed this for the world.

The only question, as it turns out, was which side of the field he would be on Monday night in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

[+] EnlargeEllis Johnson
Greg McWilliams/Icon SMIWhile Ellis Johnson's defense has had its struggles, the Tigers are second in the SEC red zone defense and third in sacks.
Johnson, one of the most respected defensive minds in college football, was one of Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher’s top targets when Mark Stoops left Florida State to become Kentucky’s head coach.

But one of the first calls newly hired Auburn coach Gus Malzahn made after getting the job was also to Johnson, who was fired after one forgettable 0-12 season as Southern Miss’ head coach.

“It was close. I guess I could have been on the other side,” Johnson said Saturday during media day. “I actually got a call from someone Jimbo and I both know before I even got fired at Southern Miss.”

To say the least, Johnson was intrigued and remembers telling his wife, Caroline, that the Florida State situation was ready-made.

“We really thought we were looking at a three-year deal here at Auburn,” Johnson said. “Nobody expected this, but I knew they were going to win at Florida State.”

After meeting with Malzahn, Johnson was scheduled to meet with Fisher, but didn't want to drag it out any further; he knew Auburn was where he belonged.

Getting back into the SEC was important for Johnson, as was getting a chance to work under Malzahn. But, ultimately, Johnson made his decision for family reasons.

He’d taken his family out of Columbia, S.C., which was home to his wife, to accept the Southern Miss job and felt as though they’d be happier in Auburn. Plus, he wasn't too far away from locking in a nice pension from the state of Alabama after working previously on Alabama’s coaching staff.

“There were a lot of reasons to go to Florida State, and I knew Jimbo was on the verge of something special there,” Johnson said. “But there were some other reasons outside football that made Auburn the right choice for us, and it’s been unbelievable the way this season has unfolded.”

Johnson’s first defense at Auburn has had its moments, both good and bad. But the Tigers have consistently made key plays during crucial situations and were second in the SEC in red zone defense.

“We’re going to have to play a lot more consistently in this game,” Johnson said. “If we give up some of the cheap plays we have this season at times, we’re going to have a hard time.”


NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State receiver Kenny Shaw was posing for photos while wearing “Google Glass.” Auburn players were dancing and jumping into interview shots, even joining the ESPNU crew on stage. Players from both teams took turns getting their pictures taken with the Vizio BCS National Championship trophy.

But don't be fooled -- they're ready for Monday night.

Saturday’s media event at the Newport Beach Marriott was chaotic, with every player and coach from both teams available to reporters. Florida State was the first team in the spotlight, followed by Auburn, and while the stars and head coaches for each team were seated at individual podiums, the rest of their teammates and staff members were seated around tables in a huge ballroom, swarmed by reporters with microphones and television cameras, working to preview the sport’s biggest game.

[+] EnlargeNCAA BCS National Championship
AP Photo/David J. PhillipAll of FSU and Auburn's players faced the media throng Saturday before the BCS title game.
In spite of all of the distractions and attention this week, those within both programs agreed they are focused and ready for Monday night’s stage.

“Preparation has been great,” FSU receiver Rashad Greene said. “So I feel like it's been one of the best all year. So we're doing a great job at handling our business, handling the situation, and when it's time to prepare, we have done a great job and when it's time to have fun, we're doing a great job at having fun as well. So we're definitely mature enough to handle our business and know there's a time and a place to do everything.”

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis said the Tigers have had the same approach.

“In the SEC, that's the best conference in college football,” Davis said. “And I just got to say, we're going to be well prepared for Monday. We're just ready to play our best and represent the great state of Alabama.”

For Auburn, Monday’s game is a chance to extend the SEC’s streak of national titles to eight, and give the conference 10 of the 16 BCS championships. For Florida State, which is making its first appearance in the national title game in 13 years, it’s a chance to elevate the ACC and most likely finish in the top five for the first time since the program’s historic run from 1987-2000. Saturday’s media event was a also rare opportunity for reporters to speak with Florida State assistant coaches, several of whom are former players now basking in the program’s return to the top.

Both teams have been here since Dec. 31, when they were welcomed at Disneyland. Sunday morning’s news conferences with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn will be the final media availability before Monday’s 8:30 p.m. ET national title game.

For the players, it’s all business now.

“Our team has done a very good job this year of not getting distracted by anything,” Malzahn said. “This week has been no different, even though the schedule has been a little bit chaotic at times. Once we got in our meetings, once we got to the practice field, the guys have been locked in, trying to get better and focus.”

Fisher and Greene both said that the Noles haven’t played their best game yet.

“I feel very confident we're ready,” Fisher said. “I think we've practiced extremely well and I like our mindset and our attitude right now. I think we're very confident in what we do but we're not arrogant. I think our kids believe in the system, and the team we have, there's not a lot of arrogance where they're ignoring things and not preparing at the same time, and I think that's very critical.”

Join us for BCS Media Day Live (11 a.m. ET)

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
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The long wait is almost over. The BCS title game is just two days away and Saturday both Florida State and Auburn meet the media, including a large contingent from ESPN.com.

Starting at 11 a.m. ET, keep this page open and we’ll bring you all of the latest quotes, pictures and videos from our team of reporters and editors in Pasadena.

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