The teams in the final Bowl Championship Series national title game today at the Rose Bowl took completely different roads to Pasadena.
Florida State used the high-speed express lane on its way to 13-0, cruising by one opponent after another.
Auburn (12-1) took the mountainous back route, navigating potholes, detours and a few angry Georgia Bulldogs.
It doesn’t matter now, they’re both here.
So, which team takes home the crystal ball?
Is it Auburn, a team of destiny that narrowly escaped Washington State in the opener, lost at Louisiana State by two touchdowns but somehow won the Southeastern Conference after two of the most improbable, back-to-back wins in the history of college football?
Or is it Florida State, a team of dominance that crushed opponent after opponent in a weaker Atlantic Coast Conference? The Seminoles’ closest call this season was a 14-point win at Boston College (whew).
The only thing seemingly obstructing Florida State’s victory is the spike-strip of history.
The Southeastern Conference has won seven straight BCS titles and nine overall. The only SEC team to lose a BCS title game was Louisiana State, which lost to SEC conference-mate Alabama.
The SEC has dominated the BCS era and is looking to finish what it started 16 years after Tennessee won it all in the 1998 season.
If you trust in history you must believe in the SEC, right?
“One thing I can tell you about history, it’s in the past,” Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston said this week. “I’m not worried about history has said. I’m worried about what’s happening today, what’s happening on Monday.”
Common sense says Winston is right. An independent arbiter, after analyzing the statistics, would rule heavily in Tallahassee’s favor.
Scoring offense: Florida State averages 53 points to Auburn’s 40.
Scoring defense: Florida State allows 10.7 points per game to Auburn’s 24.
Florida State brings to the game an offense averaging 529 yards per game, facing an Auburn defense that allows an average of 423.
“We have not been, by all standards a really good defense this year,” Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson confessed. “But we always know how to play in the moment. We’ve made critical stops at critical times.”
Auburn’s defense has been good in red zone efficiency, ranking eighth nationally, but that may not matter much if Florida State is scoring on gaping-hole plays beyond the 20-yard line.
The eyeball evidence points to Florida State’s finally snapping the SEC’s dominance in title games.
“If you could end that, it would be good,” Seminoles defensive back Terrence Brooks said. “You see it all year, you see a lot of analysts saying this is the best conference, this is the best players in football. It don’t mean nothing to me.”
What Auburn has going for it is unprecedented — some would say spooky — karma.
Don’t discount the “fairy dust factor” if the Tigers can keep it a close game in the fourth quarter.
There are things you can’t explain in sports and Auburn is one of them.
It was one thing to win the Georgia game on a Hail Mary pass on fourth down and 18, when Nick Marshall’s heave bounced off a defender’s hands into the hands of Ricardo Louis for a 73-yard touchdown.
It was immediately dubbed “Prayer on the Plains.”
“I don’t believe in luck,” Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said of that play this week. “But that was luck!”
Not even a leprechaun would argue.
Two weeks later, that play was topped when Auburn defeated Alabama on Chris Davis’ 109-yard return of a 57-yard missed field goal as time expired.
It may go down as the greatest final second in college football history.
“He turned on some speed like I’ve never seen before,” teammate Tre Mason said. “My jaw dropped to the ground. It felt like the floor was shaking, that’s how loud it was. … We were in as much shock as them (Alabama).”
It would be easier to pull the Florida State “pick” trigger if Auburn did not so eerily remind of the 2010 team that pulled this kind of stuff all the way to BCS title.
Cam Newton, the quarterback that year, started at another SEC school (Florida), transferred to a junior college after getting in some trouble, and then sought refuge at Auburn.
The 2010 Auburn teams trailed in eight games (this year’s Auburn team trailed in seven). It would have lost to Clemson had a Clemson receiver not dropped a touchdown pass in overtime. Clemson then tied the score on a field goal that was negated by an illegal procedure penalty on the center. Clemson missed the retry.
Oh, Auburn also trailed Alabama that season, 24-0, before rallying to win.
This season’s Auburn team is led by quarterback Nick Marshall, who started at another SEC school (Georgia), transferred to a JC after getting in some trouble, and then sought refuge at Auburn.
“It’s funny how that worked out,” Marshall said of the career-path similarities.
Maybe Monday is the game where Auburn’s luck runs out.
Maybe it will be Winston’s day on his 20th birthday.