AUBURN, Ala. — Cassanova McKinzy isn't bothered by it. When asked whether he's relived Auburn's narrow, 34-31 loss to Florida State in January, he answered affirmatively. He "watches it all the time."
Seven months later, what has been his key takeaway?
"No matter what the score is, keep your feet on the gas," the junior linebacker said. "Keep doing what you do and what got you there. That's about it."
And it certainly is easy to second-guess, particularly when it comes to the game's first 30 minutes. At one point, Auburn was up 21-3 with just five minutes remaining in the first half. On the ensuing possession, Florida State responded with a touchdown — aided by a successful fake punt to keep the drive alive — of its own to cut the deficit to 21-10. But when Auburn received the ball with 1:22 left before halftime at Florida State's 29-yard line, it decided to go uncharacteristically conservative. On first and second downs, the Tigers handed the ball off to Tre Mason , gaining seven yards.
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Then the Tigers called timeout — one of the two they still had available. Out of the timeout, Nick Marshall wasn't able to connect with Sammie Coates on third down.
The Tigers punted, and the half came to a close.
Afterward, Gus Malzahn didn't regret the decision not to be more aggressive on his final possession of the first half.
"Any time you lose you always look back, but really I felt pretty good," Auburn's coach said. "Felt we were trying to get a first down, get around midfield possibly and throw it in the end zone."
Once the second half got underway, the Seminoles continued their rally, eventually coming back to capture their first national championship since 1999. But given all the Tigers accomplished last season — 12 victories and an SEC title — and as close as they played the Seminoles, Dameyune Craig believed they had shouldn't hang their heads.
No, he hasn't watched it on television. Still, he's seen it from every angle imaginable. The offensive film. The defensive film. And in his estimation, Auburn's defense "played a great game."
The Seminoles, he said, just came up with a few plays when they needed them most.
"I was proud of those guys because, I tell you what, (the Seminoles) had some weapons," said Craig, Auburn's receivers coach. "They averaged 53 points a game and 500-600 yards of offense and (had) explosive players at every position. We really held our own. I think they should have confidence coming out of that game heading into this season."
Besides, he pointed out, how many other teams can say they played two Heisman Trophy winners last year, as the Tigers did versus Texas A&M (quarterback Johnny Manziel) and Florida State (quarterback Jameis Winston)?
That meant little to Gabe Wright. Sure, the senior defensive tackle said, winning the SEC championship was nice. But no one who plays college football in a "Power 5" conference says they're simply in it to win a conference crown — especially in the SEC, the league that has appeared in eight straight national championship games and won seven of them.
So even after all the unforgettable things that transpired in Auburn's run to the BCS title game, Wright said the only thing he thinks about is the loss to Florida State.
"It was a great experience, something I’ve never experienced before," he said about the spellbinding 2013 campaign. "But that fire is still burning from last season. We’re definitely using that toward this season coming up."
It is the kind of attitude that should bring a smile to the face of any Auburn backer.
When you accomplish as many things as the Tigers did last season, it's a bit easy to get complacent. Go down the roster, though, and nearly every returning player evokes the same mind-set as Wright: The numerous incredible finishes from last year will stay with them forever. And winning the SEC championship was great. But losing in the final game — and with only 13 seconds to go when the Seminoles' Kelvin Benjamin hauled in the go-ahead touchdown — is too much to bear.
With the talent the Tigers possess, there's no reason they can't change that this season and fulfill their motto of being "13 seconds better." In turn, it would give McKinzy the chance to relive the final game of the season once more.
This time, however, it would carry a far more positive connotation.