It is a theory that Auburn fans and many in the national media are clinging to in a major way: the idea that should the BCS National Championship Game be a close affair late, then Florida State is ill-equipped to win.
And it is a theory that needs to be stopped in its tracks.
Yes, Auburn has been locked into more close affairs that required the team to play in high-pressure situations. Yes, Florida State flies into Pasadena on the wings of a season full of stomping out opponents. Yes, it makes sense to look for a close game out of the Seminoles and the Tigers.
But no, it does not make a ton of sense to assume Florida State will simply fold in a close game. The Seminoles have not had to manage end-of-game scenarios because they are the nation's most complete team, both physically and mentally. Jimbo Fisher's team ran opponents off the field because not only was it a better squad, it played like that from opening kickoff.
Keep in mind, this has absolutely zero to do with Auburn. The Tigers' experience in close games is tied to some of the deficiencies in the team. If Gus Malzahn's team could have blown every opponent out, it certainly would have. Winning by a few touchdowns is the ideal situation, not living on the edge hoping for good breaks late.
This theory is not about Auburn; it is about an effort to pull down Florida State rooted in, at best, a hope that this team cracks under a possible pressure situation. Why would the Seminoles, who have been good in every scenario, suddenly be bad in an expected football situation?
Nothing about this Florida State team speaks to the inability to handle pressure. This team has stepped out on to the field 13 times expecting to get its opponent's best shot, prepared to do whatever is necessary to earn a win. It just so happened that Florida State was able to shut teams down and score points in a way that allowed it to avoid end-game scenarios.
But the Seminoles did not avoid pressure.
It's been casually dismissed on a large scale due to the final scores, but it does Florida State a disservice to deny that the team rose to every occasion and answered every bell in 2013.
Starting a freshman on the road on Labor Day?
Starting safety goes down in the third game and the team is forced to move a true freshman corner to safety compensate?
Seconds away from going into halftime tied up in a game the team expected to roll in?
Taking on the No. 3 team in the nation, on the road, in a conference rivalry game in a loud and hostile environment?
Home game against a rival thirsty for resurgence and a marquee victory, ranked in the Top 10?
Conference championship game against a team riding a major win streak and feeling good about itself?
The Seminoles faced all those situations and responded well.
So why, pray tell, would this team stop responding to football situations in the BCS National Championship Game? Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan expresses the same point to the Tallahassee Democrat's Natalie Pierre, saying the 'Noles are going to fight regardless of the scenario:
FSU's Jernigan asked how he feels team would handle a close game/being down: "We're going to fight. We're going to fight no matter what."— Natalie Pierre (@Natalie_Pierre) January 2, 2014
The Seminoles have been fighting all season, and that's what teams have to do to win the BCS Championship. At no point in BCS history does the idea of a dominant team being wildly inept in a close end-game scenario hold water; why would it start now?
This chart shows the undefeated BCS Champions with the five highest margins of victory:
|Team||Avg Margin of Victory||BCS Championship Margin of Victory|
|1999 Florida State||21.3||17|
Here are the teams that entered the BCS Championship undefeated, only to lose, with the five highest margins of victory:
|Team||Avg Margin of Victory||BCS Championship Game Margin of Loss|
|1999 Virginia Tech||26.8||17|
A look at the winners and the losers shows one major point: handling close, end-of-game situations is not the problem. The 2005 and 1999 seasons are the years where both opponents make the list for winning big in the regular season.
The end of the 2005 game was an epic affair between Texas and USC where both heavyweights exchanged blows and the Longhorns were the last team standing despite the Trojans having more "close game" experience. In 2000, there was nothing close about the game, as the Seminoles dominated Virginia Tech on the way to a 46-29 victory in the Sugar Bowl.
In 2010, after beating everyone by an average margin of 28.3 points, the Ducks did not mismanage the end of the BCS National Championship Game. Rather, in losing to Auburn 22-19, Oregon had the score tied 19-19, looking to force overtime before a miracle run by Michael Dyer put the Tigers in a position to kick a winning field goal.
In 2001, Oklahoma was a high-powered offense that only mustered 13 points as it rode the defense to a 13-2 win over the Florida State Seminoles. In a tight game through three quarters, the Sooners, who were rarely tested on the year, were not bothered by the close margin of the game, and Bob Stoops' team found a way to win.
Perhaps some will point to the Miami Hurricanes, a team with a 19.1 average margin of victory, as proof that close games could be problematic. The problem is, Miami responded well to the tight ball game, despite being a heavy favorite over Ohio State, and the controversial pass interference call, plus a critical injury and a well-timed blitz to end the game, went a long way in deciding that contest.
There is no reason, beyond wishful thinking, to believe that this Florida State team will not respond. Those before them have responded, and answering the bell has been a hallmark of the Seminoles' season. This team's focus has been its best weapon in 2013, something Lamarcus Joyner hit on and USA Today's Dan Wolken pointed out back in October:
Lamarcus Joyner: "You look at last year you have a bunch of talent, but you have talent with no belief. We lacked leadership."— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) October 20, 2013
Should the game be close and Florida State lose, it will be because it gets outplayed, not because it is poorly prepared to play in a close game.