This time, there wasn’t any controversy.
When the Bowl Championship Series unveiled pairings for its final title game on Sunday night — when the pollsters had voted, when the computer data was deciphered — everything fell into order.
The No. 1-ranked Florida State Seminoles (13-0), champions of the ACC and one of the most dominant teams in recent memory, will face the No. 2 Auburn Tigers (12-1), champions of the SEC and destiny’s darlings, for the BCS title on Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, Calif.
The often-imperfect BCS will give way next season to the College Football Playoff, a four-team tournament selected by a committee.
“We’ve gotten it right more times than we’ve created controversy,’’ BCS executive director Bill Hancock said. “We have the matchup everybody wants to see.’’
It’s Jimbo Fisher’s Seminoles, who have won each game by at least two touchdowns, led by freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, the probable Heisman Trophy winner. It’s the powerful FSU brand, which had 14 consecutive seasons of top-five rankings under Bobby Bowden, coming back to life.
It’s Gus Malzahn’s Tigers, who needed a Hail Mary miracle pass to defeat Georgia and a 108-yard return of a missed field goal to topple Alabama on the game’s final play. It’s an Auburn program that was worst in the SEC last season, now with an opportunity to finish first in the nation.
Auburn positioned itself for a national title with Saturday’s overwhelming 59-42 victory against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. But just when the Tigers were poised to argue their case for Pasadena, the politicking suddenly wasn’t necessary. When Michigan State upset previously unbeaten Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, the path was neatly cleared for FSU-Auburn.
Although there was no mystery in the process for FSU, which got to No. 2 in November when Stanford defeated Oregon, then rose to No. 1 after Alabama’s defeat, Sunday still became a special moment for Fisher.
“You’re so caught up in the emotion of the game of trying to win the (ACC) championship,’’ Fisher said. “There’s a great sense of pride in that. When you woke up (Sunday), once you heard it on TV that you were the No. 1 seed going into the national championship game against a great opponent like Auburn, it does sink in and you know it’s reality.’’
FSU is trying to capture the program’s third national championship (along with 1993 and 1999), which would pull the Seminoles equal with the Florida Gators (national champions in 1996, 2006 and 2008). Miami holds the state record for national championships with five.
Auburn’s national championship moment is still fresh. The Tigers won the BCS title following the 2010 season, behind Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton and coach Gene Chizik. But last season, Auburn slumped to 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC, the program’s worst season in 60 years, and Chizik was fired.
Malzahn, the former Auburn offensive coordinator who was hired from Arkansas State, produced a team that surpassed everyone’s expectations.
“It has been a lot of fun to coach this group,’’ Malzahn said. “They have come a very long way. They slowly improved and found a way to win games early on when we weren’t playing our best ball.
“Our goal was real simple. Just improve each game. We felt like if we did that, we’d have a chance to be a pretty good team at the end of the year. We really never went into the fact of how many wins or this bowl or that bowl. It was really about us trying to improve. That was our approach. We look up and we’re playing for the national championship. It’s really something.’’
FSU and Auburn are both seeking a final victory that would make the final BCS title game one to remember.
“We all complained about the BCS and everything that goes on,’’ Fisher said. “But it’s funny how many times they get it right.’’