PASADENA, Calif. — Auburn ran out of magic Monday.
It was Florida State that pulled the rabbit out of its hat, scoring with 13 seconds remaining on a Jameis Winston touchdown pass to give the Seminoles their third national championship, 34-31.
The BCS era came to a wild, pulsating end.
Three touchdowns were scored in the final five minutes before the ’Noles pulled out a nail-biting victory in the Rose Bowl on Winston’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin. FSU came back twice in the final five minutes for the win.
“It was an unbelievable game,” FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said.
With FSU trailing 24-20 and time running out on the Seminoles’ season, freshman Kermit Whitfield returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to give the Noles a 27-24 lead.
But Auburn, which had escaped with victories on two miraculous plays toward the end of the season, wasn’t finished. Tre Mason scored on a 37-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers back on top.
Florida State got the ball back on its 20 with 1:11 remaining and drove the length of the field to give the school its first national title since 1999. The big play of the drive came on Winston’s 49-yard pass completion to Rashad Greene to put the ball in Auburn territory.
Auburn was also called on a key interference call in the end zone, setting up the winning touchdown.
Though the Seminoles breezed through the season by going 13-0 and winning games by an average margin of 42 points, questions lingered about their strength of schedule, its relative lack of stiff competition in the ACC compared to the weekly rigors endured by SEC members.
Still others wondered how FSU would respond under pressure for the first time.
The Seminoles answered their skeptics with an electric win, coming from behind to knock off Auburn.
The Seminoles scored on their opening drive when Roberto Aguayo connected on a 35-yard field goal. But it didn’t take long for Auburn to accomplish something no Florida State opponent had managed to do since September: Take the lead on the Seminoles.
Mason hauled in Nick Marshall’s short pass and ran untouched for a 12-yard touchdown that put the Tigers on top, 7-3.
The Seminoles led the nation in scoring defense during the season. But Auburn was undaunted, and when Tigers receiver Melvin Ray ended up all alone in the FSU secondary, Marshall found him for a 50-yard touchdown pass that put the Seminoles in a 14-3 hole early in the second quarter.
Winston and the explosive FSU offense, meanwhile, looked like a different unit than the one that turned the scoreboard into a pinball counter over the course of the season.
Florida State was forced to settle for a field goal when its opening drive stalled, and its only first down over its three possessions was the result of a personal foul penalty against Auburn.
Auburn, not noted for its defense — and its below-average pass defense, especially — managed to hold Winston and the Seminoles air attack in check for the early part of the game. Winston looked out of whack in the first half, more like most any freshman quarterback than the Heisman winner that he is. Winston completed only 6 of 15 first-half passes for 62 yards. He not only threw his passes off target but also coughed up the ball for a fumble.
The Tigers expanded their lead to 21-3 on Marshall’s 4-yard run. It was the first rushing touchdown allowed all season by the Seminoles’ first-team defense.
With a growing sense of desperation, the Seminoles finally reached the end zone late in the half on Devonta Freeman’s short touchdown run. But it required a fake punt to sustain the drive.
While Florida State’s offense was failing to live up to its billing, Auburn’s running game was good as advertised. Mason, the SEC’s offensive player of the year, had 96 rushing yards in the first half alone and finished with 196 yards on the ground.
In the second half, Winston and the Seminoles offense finally showed some life.
Florida State cut the lead to 21-13 on Aguayo’s 41-yard field goal.
After P.J. Williams picked off a Marshall pass in the fourth quarter, the Seminoles zipped down the field, covering 56 yards on five plays and trimming Auburn’s lead to 21-20 on Winston’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Abram.
Cody Parkey’s short field goal gave Auburn a 24-20 lead.
But Whitfield ran the kickoff back 100 yards for the touchdown and Winston orchestrated the winning drive.
Playoff committee will avoid rematches if possible
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — BCS executive director Bill Hancock says the selection committee for the College Football Playoff will try to avoid rematches, but not at the expense of the integrity of the seedings.
Hancock spoke to the Football Writers Association of America on Monday. He says the top priority of the selection committee will be to make sure the No. 1 team plays close to home and the teams are properly seeded.
Using this season’s final BCS standings, and next season’s semifinal sites, the final four would have been No. 1 Florida State playing No. 4 Michigan State in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Auburn playing No. 3 Alabama in the Rose Bowl.
Hancock says seeding adjustments will only be made if teams are considered even.
Malzahn named Liberty Mutual coach of year
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — Auburn’s Gus Malzahn is the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year.
Malzahn was announced as the winner of the award before Monday’s game. He was elected in online fan voting and by national media and players and coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Malzahn led Auburn into the title game in his first season after inheriting a 3-9 team.
North Dakota State’s Craig Bohl is the FCS coach of the year. Minnesota Duluth’s Curt Wiese won Division II honors and Pete Fredenburg of Mary Hardin-Baylor was honored in Division III.
BCS bowls’ TV viewership up 15 percent
BRISTOL, Conn. — The BCS bowls’ television viewership was up 15 percent from last year.
The Rose, Fiesta, Sugar and Orange bowls averaged more than 14.3 million viewers on ESPN, up from under 12.5 million last season.
Oklahoma’s 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar averaged 16.3 million viewers, the most for the bowl since 2001 in years it didn’t serve as the national title game. That’s up 61 percent from last season’s matchup between Louisville and Florida.
By wire sources