AUBURN, Ala. — For the second time in four years, Auburn will play for the BCS national championship.
After beating Missouri in Saturday’s SEC Championship game — coupled with Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship contest — it was a mere formality Auburn would move up from No. 3 to No. 2. Once the final BCS Standings of the season were released Sunday night, that came to pass, as Auburn rose one position, setting up a date with top-ranked Florida State in the BCS National Championship game on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif.
When the Tigers arrive in Pasadena, they will prepare for an opponent that has yet to be tested this season.
The Seminoles are averaging 53 points per game while giving up just 10.7. The tightest contest Florida State has had came on Sept. 28 at Boston College. Even so, the Seminoles still won by two touchdowns, leaving with a 48-34 victory.
Gus Malzahn was well-aware of Florida State’s astounding numbers Sunday night.
“Their quarterback (Jameis Winston) is unbelievable, the receivers are unbelievable,” Auburn’s head coach said during a BCS coaches teleconference. “They can run the football. So it'll be a huge challenge for our defense. ... (But) this year it's been very unique. Our team has complemented each other. When our offense hasn't played well, our defense has played well, and vice versa. So hopefully we can do that again.”
On the flip side, Jimbo Fisher knew his team would have to come up with a game plan to slow down the Tigers’ rushing attack, which is tops in the country in yards per game (335.7). What’s more, Auburn is coming off a record-setting performance in the SEC Championship game, where it ran for 545 yards against Missouri.
Fisher credited Malzahn for much of the success, saying Auburn’s coach has found a way to perfectly utilize the plethora of options at his disposal.
“They can handle on the speed sweep, they outflank you, they have great receivers and motion guys that way, they can run the ball inside with great power and the quarterback can run it and play action off of it, which is like a four-headed monster — you talk about a three-headed monster, they have a four-headed monster — and they have an excellent offensive line,” Fisher said. “The productivity is amazing. What they've been able to do, and we all know that the SEC is an outstanding league and they play great football. They'll be a tremendous challenge for our team.”
Of course, the matchup wouldn’t have happened if not for the Spartans, who ended the Buckeyes’ 24-game win streak.
Malzahn said he had not spoken with Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio yet, “but I need to.” Auburn’s head coach got a chance to watch the last two minutes of the Spartans’ 34-24 victory when he got home.
“I was kind of keeping up with it a little bit on my phone,” Malzahn said. “When I got in my car, I turned on the radio.”
His players, meanwhile, were in different spots of their dormitory,
“I was actually in the lobby of the dorm. A lot of guys were in there just watching the game,” junior running back Tre Mason said. “We were all just excited on that fourth down that Ohio State didn't convert. It worked out in favor of us.”
Chris Davis went a step further, extending his gratitude to the Spartans on behalf of the Tigers.
“We just thank Michigan State for the opportunity to let us get a chance to play in the national championship game,” the senior corner said, before stating that Auburn still earned its spot in the BCS title contest. “We had a tougher schedule than Ohio State, but we don’t do the votes on who is going to play in the national championship game. We beat the No. 1 team in the nation, and we beat more top-5 teams than they did, so I think we had to right to play in the national championship.”
Even though Dee Ford admits it’s easy to get overwhelmed given the circumstances, the senior was around for Auburn’s 2010 national title run.
As such, he already knows the routine.
“It gets to a point where you just have to start focusing on things that you have to do,” he said. “You have to start making plans. I’ve got a few things coming up — I’m about to graduate. I haven’t really had much time to sit back and dwell on what just happened just yet. But it’s a great feeling.”