The BCS saved its best for last.
No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn went back and forth with two lead changes in the final 1:20 of the last championship game of the BCS era, but it was Heisman winner Jameis Winston who scored in the end, as the Seminoles escaped Pasadena with a thrilling 34-31 victory.
Fellow Heisman finalist Tre Mason finished with 195 yards on 34 carries—his last a 37-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 31-27 lead with 1:19 remaining—but Winston responded with a national championship-winning 80-yard drive, finding Kelvin Benjamin for the decisive score:
Winston, who helped FSU back from an early 18-point deficit, finished with 237 yards passing and two scores. He was named MVP of the game for his efforts. After a memorable performance, he gave an equally memorable interview, via Patrik Nohe of the Miami Herald and Bo Mattingly:
"We doing it big all over the country, all over the world." - Jameis Winston— Patrik Nohe/M_Herald (@PatrikNohe_MH) January 7, 2014
"My team got on my back and we went the whole way" -Jameis Winston— Bo Mattingly (@SportsTalkwBo) January 7, 2014
Following the game, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press noted an interesting fact:
Jameis Winston, who grew up idolizing Vince Young, leads the game-winning drive into the same Rose Bowl end zone as VY and Texas 8 yrs ago— Mike Berardino (@MikeBerardino) January 7, 2014
The first 25 minutes belonged to Auburn.
Florida State got an early stop and then went 59 yards to set up a field goal and a 3-0 lead, but its next four possessions gained just 28 total yards, with the last ending on a Winston fumble.
As Auburn's defense continued to frustrate a seemingly overwhelmed Seminoles squad, its offense was equally successful. Head coach Gus Malzahn orchestrated the perfect gameplan to keep the 'Noles defense off balance, and seemingly every time FSU brought pressure, Nick Marshall and the Tigers burned them.
Five of Auburn's first six drives went into FSU territory. One ended on a missed field goal, but three were capped by touchdowns, including this sprint to the outside by Marshall to make it 21-3 with five minutes to go in the half:
Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel summed up the start:
FSU getting outcoached. Defense can't line up. Offense can't decide what it's trying to do. FSU has better players. AU better team so far— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) January 7, 2014
A fake punt on fourth-and-four on the next drive injected energy into Winston and the 'Noles, and they immediately went 66 yards on 11 plays to cut the lead to 21-10 heading into the locker room.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Tigers, who entered the game as a double-digit underdog, were suddenly a massive favorite:
Auburn's win probability at halftime is 82% (accounts for FSU receiving 2nd-half kickoff) #BCS— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 7, 2014
Both defenses continued to shine in the third quarter. Florida State's Timmy Jernigan and Auburn's Dee Ford took turns terrorizing opposing offensive linemen, and Seminoles kicker Robert Aguayo's 41-yard field goal served as the only scoring of the quarter.
After Marshall threw an interception early in the fourth, FSU once again fed off the big play, going 56 yards on five plays for the touchdown. Down by two, a questionable unsportsmanlike penalty call on Devonta Freeman forced the Seminoles to kick the extra point rather than attempt a 2-point conversion, and they remained behind, 21-20.
CBS Sports' Will Brinson examined the call:
That's a good call. If they're playing professional badminton.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) January 7, 2014
Auburn's offense, which had been quiet for most of the half, responded with a time-chewing possession, eventually getting a short field goal with just 4:42 remaining.
The Tigers' four-point lead proved to be short-lived, as Levonte Whitfield took the ensuing kickoff and flew down the sideline, going end zone to end zone to give the Seminoles the lead:
The fireworks were hardly over, though.
Auburn immediately went 75 yards and Mason appeared to give the Tigers their final miracle of the destiny-dubbed 2013 season, but the freshman Winston responded with a game-winning drive that will never be forgotten.
Nick Marshall, Auburn: B+
Seeing coverage like this from the secondary tends to make things a little bit easier:
Other than that 50-yard touchdown toss, Marshall was fairly up-and-down as a thrower. He made some really nice, accurate throws early but he struggled a bit once Florida State's defense started to bare down. He also threw a costly fourth-quarter interception.
In the run game, though, Marshall proved to be dangerous, getting to the edge several times and eating up chunks of yardage. When he was running the ball, FSU was kept at bay and Auburn's offense moved much better.
Jameis Winston, Florida State: A
CBS Sports' Dane Brugler summed up Winston's start:
It took until January, but QB Jameis Winston finally looks like a freshman— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) January 7, 2014
The Heisman winner seemed discombobulated early on, making inaccurate throws and not showing great pocket presence—either taking sacks or tucking the ball too early, as he did on his fumble.
Things eventually slowed down for Winston, however, as he got into a better rhythm and was able to start connecting on throws and move the ball with consistency, eventually orchestrating the game-winning touchdown drive.
Not a bad 20th birthday for Heisman winner Jameis Winston - 237 Pass yds, 2 TD, including 77 on game-winning drive. pic.twitter.com/RuLARXvhAI— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 7, 2014
It was an uneven start for Winston, but no one will remember that. What a way to cap a perfect season.
Tre Mason, Auburn: A
The Seminoles had no answers for Mason. Part of his success was a product of Malzahn's playcalling that opened him up in space, but part of it was also the result of his quickness and agility that got him into that space.
Mason slalomed through the Seminoles defense with video-game-like cuts on several different occasions, including this one on a 12-yard touchdown reception:
He showed a little bit of power, too, as evidenced on his bone-crushing touchdown run in the final minutes. There was nothing more that Mason could have done.
Timmy Jernigan, Florida State: A
The junior defensive tackle unequivocally saw his draft stock rise on Monday night, as he shed blocks and stuffed running lanes whenever Auburn tried to run inside. He also created penetration when Marshall dropped back to pass.
His ability to cause trouble in both the running and passing game was impressive, and both Bleacher Report's Matt Miller and NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah offered their praises of the big man:
Timmy Jernigan (8-FSU) second-most impressive draft-eligible player on the field for me tonight. So disruptive.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 7, 2014
Jernigan is a powerful run defender…locking out his man every single snap— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 7, 2014
Auburn just couldn't handle the dynamic and talented Jernigan. If he starts putting everything together for long stretches like he did on Monday, he's going to be a high-impact player in the NFL.