PASADENA, Calif. — Team of destiny?
The Auburn Tigers were a team of destiny during the 2013 season, but unfortunately for them, the Vizio BCS National Championship Game was played in 2014.
Destiny dealt Auburn a gut punch on Monday night. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston led his Seminoles on a seven-play, 80-yard drive in just 58 seconds, hitting Kelvin Benjamin on a two-yard pass with 13 seconds remaining for the 34-31 win.
It was nearly a storybook ending for the Tigers, who went from 3-9 a year ago to 13 seconds from hoisting their second crystal football in four years.
Don't expect the Tigers to fall back down into the abyss again, though, because first-year head coach Gus Malzahn has his program back on an elite level and is here to stay.
"There's no doubt, we're going up," Malzahn said. "The experience that we had (this season), and we have most of our guys coming back. Recruiting is going great, and our goal is to get back here. I really believe that we'll do it."
The Tigers do have a boatload of talent coming back.
There's only one senior on Auburn's entire offensive two-deep depth chart—fullback Jay Prosch. Auburn running back Tre Mason, who rushed for 195 yards and one touchdown against the Seminoles, could go pro as could a few other Tigers.
Mason isn't thinking about the potential next step.
"Emotions are everywhere right now," he said. "Right now, I just feel like I let the whole Auburn family down by not finishing. That decision will probably come later on, but right now I'm not thinking of that."
Even if Mason doesn't come back, Malzahn gets a full offseason with most of the pieces who led the Tigers to the second-best offense in the SEC (501.3 YPG). That includes rising senior Nick Marshall, who was the trigger man of an offense that evolved into one of the most lethal in the SEC as the season went on.
Marshall completed 14 of 27 passes for 217 yards, two touchdowns and one interception through the air versus the Seminoles and rushed 16 times for 45 yards and one touchdown.
"I felt Nick did a very solid job," Malzahn said. "They were daring us to throw the football early in the game, and I think we hit that big one down the middle, and it kind of loosened him up a little bit."
Malzahn is excited about helping his quarterback progress as a passer this offseason.
"He's done an outstanding job this year, not going through spring and leading us to the national championship with a chance to win it. He has a very bright future."
So do his Tigers.
They currently have the eighth-best recruiting class in the nation, according to 247 Sports, with eight of those commits or signees being defenders with four or more stars in the 247 Sports composite index.
That's a scary thought.
Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense has proven to be kryptonite for intrastate rival Nick Saban. If that top-tier defensive talent can come in and provide depth for the incumbents or break through into the starting lineup, the Tigers will be dancing in the College Football Playoff sooner rather than later.
In this day and age, defense doesn't win championships anymore—just enough defense does. Auburn had enough for 59:47, and finding it for those final 13 seconds shouldn't have been terribly difficult.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand.