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BCS Championship: Gambles, heroes and cold, hard truths

[airesizeimg src=”” alt=”BLEEPCS” class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-2875″ ]  BCSON COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S biggest stage, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher proved he will be someone the nation will have to deal with for years to come.

It already was obvious he could recruit. The Seminoles’ roster is peppered with a level of NFL talent that rivals the best years of Alabama and the 1980s-1990s Miami program.

Talent is huge. Playing the proper scheme with said talent is key. But the missing ingredient – the difference between a perennial 10-3 team and a national champion – is a coach who knows when and where to take a risk.

In the second quarter of Monday’s national championship game against Auburn, while trailing 21-3 and facing 4th-and-4, Fisher called for a fake punt. Failure could potentially have been disastrous. If the Tigers stuffed the play then merely converted a long field goal, Auburn’s momentum could have become unstoppable.

But sometimes, you have to gamble and you just have to roll the hard-six. Florida State converted, they went on to score and suddenly, we had a ball game. The 34-31 final score might merely have been the result of the clock running out, for there was little to suggest Auburn would not have been able to march down the field and score after Jameis Winston’s touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining (could you imagine a fifth quarter in that game?).

That said, FSU would not be in the game – in fact, the Seminoles likely would have fallen off a cliff – if Karlos Williams doesn’t get that first down.

“We lost momentum in the game, it was 21-3. I knew with five minutes to go if they got it back and scored, the game could be over right there before half,” Fisher said. “I knew we had the ball coming out the second half and we’re here to win this thing. We weren’t here just to show up and play well. And I thought that’s what we had to do to gain the momentum of the game back, and it worked and we got it, went down, got the drive and then got back in the ballgame, and hopefully that’s what changed the momentum of the game and got our confidence back.”

At halftime, the scene had been set. Auburn led 21-10, but had left roughly 10 points on the field. The Seminoles offense was perking up. Winston, who had been tight to begin, was thawing out.

Auburn had yet to see Florida State’s vaunted no-huddle offense. With the Seminoles’ combination of speedy and hulking wideouts and a quarterback who has the ability to deliver the football to any spot on the field, it was clear the game would devolve into a track meet. That’s exactly what we got in the fourth quarter.

Auburn’s defense had played over its head for the entire first half and was doing nothing different after halftime. What happened? Regression to the mean. Playmakers will make plays and eventually a defense’s intensity gives way to fatigue. When that defense also happens to be playing at a level it is unaccustomed to, an entire game can come crashing down.

Suddenly, Kermit Whitfield and his Olympic track speed came into play. Suddenly Benjamin’s 6-5 frame began casting shadows over Auburn’s smaller secondary.

Suddenly, Winston realized he didn’t have to beat the Tigers all by himself.

“As a quarterback you’ve got to always believe that you are never bigger than the game, and I was out there, I was so outcome-oriented, I was like, man, I’m trying to blow these boys out,” Winston said. “I had to remember, hey, I’ve got to respect the game. I’ve got teammates around me. I’ve got a team for a reason, so I can’t go out there and do stuff by myself.

“I took the initiative in the second half, hey, guys, we’re here for a reason, and I was like, I’m going to get on my “A” game, I’m going to start doing what I need to do,” Winston continued. “We’re not going to have any more turnovers. I said, guys, if we don’t turn the ball over we’re going to win the game, and we had one turnover in the first half and then in the second half we didn’t turn the ball over, and we won.”

AUBURN, IF YOU’RE a cynic, arrived in the title game on the strength of a Hail Mary pass against Georgia and the most unlikely field goal touchdown return in football history. If you’re a poet at heart, Auburn’s arrival in Pasadena was owed to a team full of heart riding an undeniable flair for the dramatic.

Truth: The Tigers reached the title game and took that late 31-27 lead because they knew who they were and would not deviate simply because time was running out.

The Tigers are a running team. They get the job done in a frenetic, controlled-chaos sort of way. By playing at such a pace, the Tigers are tough to deal with since they can stay with their running strength even as the clock prattles on.

They stuck to their guns trailing 27-24 and were rewarded when Tre Mason – who should be neck and neck with Winston and Marcus Mariota for next year’s Heisman – rampaged through a worn out Florida State defense for the go-ahead score with 79 seconds remaining.

In the course of that run, Mason broke Bo Jackson’s single-season school rushing record. By the time his collegiate career ends, he should have a place reserved as one of the greatest college running backs to ever suit up.

What happened after that moment was not Mason’s fault. He was not on the field as Winston cemented his own status as a future legend of the college game. That’s why it’s so tragic Mason felt the way he did after the final seconds ticked away.

“Right now I just feel like I let the whole Auburn family down by not finishing,” Mason said.

It is a ridiculous notion. But it is human.

“We told (Auburn’s fans) we’d have the biggest turnaround in college football, and the biggest turnaround would be winning that crystal ball,” Mason said. “We owed them that because of the season last year. I just want them to know that I gave it all I got, but I still feel like I let them down.”

Teammate Dee Ford was right there on the podium to burst Mason’s boo-bubble.

“Yeah, he is being too hard on himself, but he’s a competitor. I don’t expect him to be any other way. But that’s why we’re a team. That’s why we’re brothers,” Ford said. “I’m able to really talk to him. And the Auburn family is going to do the same thing. But yeah, he’s down on himself. That’s expected. We’re competitors. I’m down on myself. But we just can’t really show the emotion, and we wanted this thing so bad and it was so close. It’s expected.”

SO IN SPECTACULAR fashion, the SEC’s run of national championships have come to an end. Throughout social media, the blogosphere and mainstream outlets, the fall of the SEC is being hashed out in no uncertain terms.

But let’s be accurate about what happened – Florida State is the best non-SEC team to come along since the 2005 season. This is a topic that cannot be debated. The Seminoles crushed all comers in 2013, barely playing a competitive half, let alone a close game.

Auburn, it can be argued, was quite possibly the second-worst SEC title game representative during the conference’s eight-year run of playing in the game (the 2007 LSU Tigers lost twice and barely defeated an average Tennessee team to win the SEC title that season).

And yet, the country held its breath as Auburn threw the football all over the field on that final play.

No, the SEC is not gone. The SEC is not to be written off. There is no national champion from the SEC this season, but the league wound up with four of the top seven teams in the country in the final rankings.

In coming weeks in this space, we’ll take a closer look at what the future holds for the SEC and the rest of the country. But for now, this is the truth of the matter:

The SEC did not lose the national championship on Monday night. Florida State won it.

“We’re victorious and glad to say Florida State is the national champion again, and I guarantee you we’re bringing that swag back,” Winston said. “You’d better believe it.”

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