AUBURN, Ala. — It had to end this way.
Yes, for all of its flaws and the controversies it has caused over the years, this is the proper sendoff for the BCS: in the same fashion it came in 14 years ago, with Florida State squaring off against a foe from the mighty SEC.
In that first title matchup, it had the Seminoles taking on the top-ranked Volunteers of Tennessee. Come Jan. 6, Florida State will reprise its role as one half of the BCS National Championship game. Standing in for Tennessee will be a resurgent Auburn squad that hasn’t met a close game it didn’t like. (Really, look it up. The Tigers are 6-0 in games decided by eight points or less this season.)
At this time last week, Jimbo Fisher couldn’t care less about who the Seminoles might face. After all, they had to clinch a spot in the BCS title tilt first, which became a mere formality after they routed Duke 45-7 last Saturday. Once the dust settled and he saw the Tigers would be their opponent, he was able to remove himself from “the bubble” coaches inhabit during a season.
After giving it some thought, Fisher said it was only “appropriate” the Tigers and Seminoles will cap off the BCS.
Cue the irony.
“It's kind of funny how it has come full circle like that, and I do appreciate the history of college football that way,” Fisher said. “We all complained about the BCS and everything that goes on, but it's funny how many times they get it right and how the history just keeps repeating itself.”
This year’s game won’t look anything like the first edition, though.
Indeed, it’s not too far off the mark to say there is almost a complete role reversal.
When the Volunteers and Seminoles arrived in Tempe, Ariz., for the first BCS championship clash, it was the SEC champion that entered undefeated. This year, it will be Seminoles entering Rose Bowl Stadium unblemished.
On that same token, the Tigers were in the same position last week that Bobby Bowden’s squad found itself in 14 years before: needing to hold serve in its own game and have a team ahead of it lose. As so often has happened this season, things went exactly the way Auburn needed, as it dispatched Missouri 59-42 in Atlanta. Michigan State then clinched the Tigers’ BCS title berth by ending Ohio State’s 24-game win streak later that night.
That was nothing compared to the multiple assists the Seminoles received in 1998.
Ranked No. 4 entering the final weekend of the regular season, Florida State had to hope for a combination of two losses from the trio of Tennessee, Kansas State, and UCLA. While the Volunteers were of no help — beating Mississippi State 24-14 in the SEC Championship — the Wildcats and Bruins made up for it. Kansas State couldn’t get past Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship game, falling 36-33.
It was the same story for No. 3 UCLA, which lost to Miami in the final game of the regular season. That road contest was originally scheduled for Sept. 26; due to Hurricane Georges, however, it was moved to Dec. 5.
When they finally arrived in Miami, the Bruins were hit by Hurricane James — Edgerrin, that is. The future NFL star put on a show, as he gashed UCLA for 299 yards and three touchdowns on 39 carries. No score was more important than his final one, which came with 50 seconds remaining to lift the Hurricanes to a 49-45 victory.
Those defeats paved the way for the Volunteers/Seminoles title tilt, which Tennessee ultimately won 23-16.
But for a moment, at least, put aside the link to the initial championship game of the BCS era. Instead, think about how this season’s BCS Championship matchup will be one of comparative dominance, partitioned by time.
In Florida State, there is the team that lorded over the BCS in its infancy, going to each of the first three title games. In Auburn, by extension, there is the SEC, the league that has had a stranglehold on the BCS the past seven seasons, not dropping a title game during that span — unless, of course, one counts LSU’s defeat in 2011. Which came to fellow SEC school Alabama, of all teams.
History has repeated itself to bring us the final championship contest before the BCS gives way to a four-team playoff.
And at the conclusion of next month’s game, history will repeat itself yet again, with dual outcomes in play.
One has Florida State returning to glory, capturing its first national championship since 1999. The other has Auburn striking one last salvo for the SEC in the BCS era, reaffirming its primacy in the college football world.
Funny how things worked out this way.