Sometimes, it is fate.
Sometimes, destiny does take the wheel.
Sometimes, it is simply pre-ordained.
Is that ridiculous thinking for making a championship game pick? Undoubtedly.
But where were you when the ball deflected up above two Georgia defenders when hope was lost? How did you react when Auburn scored an easy touchdown, down 7, to the defending national champs, with under a minute left? Do I even need to discuss the Chris Davis Kick-6?
If that was how Auburn’s season ended, maybe I’d throw this fate junk into a river and pick the better team. But that’s not how Auburn’s season ended. So I’m still going to pick the better team.
The SEC Championship Game, the winner of which is 6-1 in the last 7 BCS Title Games, has become the showcase of the college football season. Though an Ohio State loss was still needed later that fateful Saturday night – there’s that word again – Auburn and Missouri played what felt like, and would eventually be, a de facto national semifinal game.
For three quarters, both teams fired back at each other, throwing overhanded rights and giant left hooks in an orgy of points, touchdown and offense. It was spellbinding and breathtaking. As the third quarter came to an end, it felt like 75,000+ people at the Georgia Dome took a deep breath.
What will happen? The crowd edged off their seats, the announcers grew breathless and this crazed college football fan gasped in anticipation of what Auburn had in store for us now.
Instead of miracles, that fourth quarter turned into a coronation. Auburn had successfully pounded an excellent Missouri team into submission. Missouri didn’t give up the fight – they had nothing left to give. They played their guts out for 45 minutes and it wasn’t enough. The relentless Auburn offense had reduced the fierce Missouri defense to rubble. It was too much.
As the confetti rained down upon Auburn, I knew I was watching the 2013 National Champions. It didn’t matter that Ohio State hadn’t even kicked off yet. It didn’t matter that Florida State hasn’t been tested an ounce this year.
When you see it, you see it. And you know it.
Auburn wasn’t the best team in September. It wasn’t in October. It started to get there in November. And after the Georgia game had been completed, they were off to achieve greatness.
It shouldn’t be like this, right? Fate isn’t real in sports. It’s about X’s and O’s and coaching and talent and execution.
But how does that describe the ball bouncing so perfectly? How does that explain Alabama’s comedy of errors in the fourth quarter, from missed field goals, to turnovers, to poor execution, to, well, everything that happened?
You see, Auburn forced those things to happen with a Gus Malzahn offense that puts its foot on your throat and doesn’t let you come up for air for four hours.
The moment that it all became crystal clear was during the Iron Bowl – and not the game-winning play. It was the game-tying touchdown. When Nick Marshall rolled left, appeared to be running a standard option and then he stopped – he fired a quick pass to a wide-open receiver who strolled in untouched for a life-altering touchdown.
In that moment, Nick Saban was scared. His team was defeated. His defense had been outcoached. He had no answers for Gus Malzahn. He may get them someday. But in that instant, he was done for.
How do we know that? Because Nick Saban wanted no part of overtime against Auburn. That’s why he fought for the extra second when T.J. Yeldon went out of bounds. That’s why he attempted the crazy long field goal when he knew the odds were against me. That’s why he mouthed the words, “I told you so,” to somebody on his headset. That’s why Nick Saban will be on the Gameday set Monday night.
Over the weekend during one of ESPN’s endless preview shows – and boy will that only get more Super Bowl-like with next year’s bowl schedule – Paul Finebaum was aghast when Mark May said Jimbo Fisher was a better coach than Gus Malzahn.
For once, Finebaum wasn’t trolling – he was just telling the truth.
You have to give Jimbo Fisher credit for building Florida State back up. You have to give him his due for creating an SEC monster in ACC clothes. The Seminoles deserve all the kudos for running through the regular season without breaking a sweat.
We know Florida State is good. But are they that good? They played one team – a grand total of one – that will finish the season in the Top 25. And they destroyed Clemson in Death Valley. The other 12 victims? Mere afterthoughts.
Auburn played its last two games against two teams that will finish in the Top 10.
Auburn has seen everything imaginable this season, including a loss. Nothing that will happen on the Rose Bowl field Monday night will be foreign to Auburn.
For Florida State? Everything will be different. I don’t foresee Auburn pulling a Clemson and choking away the game before we reach the second quarter.
So I am picking Auburn. Because of fate. Because of Gus Malzahn. Because Nick Marshall appears to have been born to run this offense. Because Tre Mason turned into college football’s best running back by December. And because I don’t trust Florida State to win a close game.
When it’s 48-14 Florida State in the second half, feel free to mock me.
Even if I get the pick wrong, I hope I’m right when I say it will be Florida State’s tightest game all year. This bowl week has been too good – and next season is too far away – for it to end any other way.
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