After so much havoc, so much uproar, so much balderdash and chafe and senselessness, I am thrilled to report today that the final installment of the Bowl Championship Series has produced a shocking result.
There is no debate, no b.s., no incensed third-team-out or brooding constituency. The national championship game will feature the two most deserving teams in college football, Florida State and Auburn, and the most cockamamie system known to big-time sports can die knowing it finally got something right.
We sensed all along that Ohio State would have been a bastardized interloper, based on too many close “showdown” games in a Big Ten conference that has plummeted to fifth as a power league and should be investigated by the FCC for having its own TV network. Those doubts were confirmed amid a late defensive collapse against Michigan State, which dominated the fourth quarter and stole a 34-24 victory in the Big Ten title game. Though winning coach Mark Dantonio tried to make a case for the Spartans leapfrogging Auburn — “I can tell you this, we beat the No. 2 team. We’re 12-1 so why not us? Why not us? I’ll vote us No. 2,” he said — he’ll have to settle for a prelim known as the Rose Bowl Game the previous week in Pasadena.
That’s because 13-0 Florida State, in spite of its own weak schedule, plundered everything in sight and wins any eye test as the nation’s most complete and talented team. And that’s because 12-1 Auburn finished off an unassailable resume on successive weekends by beating the No. 1 (Alabama) and No. 5 (Missouri) teams as champion of an omnipotent conference, the SEC, that has won the last seven national titles. Fact is, Ohio State is the only team on Michigan State’s schedule still ranked nationally, and the Spartans lost to a Notre Dame team that will play its bowl game in a baseball stadium in the Bronx.
Besides, America wants to be entertained on Jan. 6. And with Auburn punctuating two all-time miracles with a 59-42 slamming of Missouri in the SEC title game, we only want to see Gus Malzahn’s agony-to-destiny team in Hollywood playing almighty Florida State, which has it own movie drama in the name of Jameis Winston, who will win the Heisman Trophy despite critics wondering how good he truly is and how fortunate he was not to face a rape trial.
“We feel like we beat the best teams. We feel like we deserve to be in the game,” said Auburn machine Tre Mason, who gashed Mizzou for 304 rushing yards and four touchdowns and busted out a Heisman pose.
Malzahn won’t find any Waffle Houses in southern California, so he’ll have to locate another celebration spot if he beats Florida State. Don’t put it past him. “We’re playing our best football right now. I don’t know if any other team can say that,” said Malzahn, who finally is getting his nationwide due as a point-scheming wizard. Remember, Malzahn was the offensive coordinator of Auburn’s national-title team three years ago and created the quarterbacking wreckingball that is Cam Newton. And if Nick Saban couldn’t stop Auburn’s running game, which also trampled Mizzouri for 545 yards, how is Florida State supposed to have answers? “There’s a real frustration that comes over you on defense when they’re coming after you over and over and over again,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “We had trouble stopping it, obviously, and couldn’t get it fixed.”
Of course, Auburn’s soft defense will have to deal with the multiple weapons of Florida State’s blurry offense. Winston struggled early in a 45-7 romp over Duke in the ACC title game, looking very much like a skittish 19-year-old just two days after his name was cleared in a sexual assault investigation in Tallahassee. But even on an off night, Winston threw for three touchdowns, ran for another and accounted for 389 yards in total offense, ending his regular season with two national freshman passing records: 38 TDs and 3,820 yards. He will win the Heisman as the most visible symbol of a larger touchdown factory — Jimbo Fisher’s offense — that includes an unstoppable load in 6-5, 235-pound receiver Kelvin Benjamin, running back Devonta Freeman and too many other skill-position beasts to mention here. Yes, Winston will deal with national media in L.A. who want to ask about his personal trials. By then, a month from now, he will have settled down.
“The football field is our sanctuary,” he said. “Every time I stepped on the field, every time we stepped on that field, everything that happened outside of our family, it was just zoned out.”
He was asked about the investigation. “I don’t feel it was a burden,” Winston said, per ESPN.com. “When everything came up, we took the initiative as a team, like hey, let’s focus, let’s get this done, let’s make it happen. We had one goal in mind, and we haven’t reached that goal yet, but we’re headed there.
“I think my teammates were more relieved than I was. It was a process, and we’ve got to keep moving forward.”
As judgments were made in Florida and nationally about Winston’s situation, even without charges being filed, his teammates backed him.
“To already have so much pressure and stress on him, and then to add on to the negativity,” cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said, per ESPN.com. “He embraced it and kept fighting for us. He could’ve easily went into a tank. To keep all the weight on his shoulders because of his (teammates), he’s a special young man, and he deserves everything he gets.”
There will be time to break down the matchups. For now, soak up the magnitude, the uncluttered joy of it all. Though folks in Florida may have enjoyed Urban Meyer against the Seminoles, he was last seen on a golf cart in Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, his head buried in his hands with a piece of pizza by his side. “You know it’s going to haunt all of us, I imagine, for a little while,” Meyer said after suffering his first loss at Ohio State. “But that’s part of the game.”
Next year, a four-team playoff system launches. This year, we didn’t need it. We have the national championship game we want, tra la, tra la.