It didn’t feel real. None of it did. The final five minutes were too good to be true. It was exciting, exhausting, thrilling and yet a fitting end to a complicated era.
Playing down the road from Hollywood, the beleaguered BCS got a closing moment fit for a dream script. And after a long run of championship game clunkers, college football’s ultimate showcase delivered shortly before the curtain fell one last time.
Florida State’s 34-31 win over Auburn will be placed next to the 2006 Rose Bowl in our own personal trophy case, a football moment we hold near and dear.
Although the College Football Playoff was already being advertised before the BCS could officially clean out its office, this game—under the BCS’ watch—is one we’ll be talking about long after it’s gone.
There was a game-winning play. And then there was another. And another. And another. One play after the next, the BCS National Championship Game went off script and decided its own magnificent path.
And yet, it didn’t feel this was the path to be traveled early on. In fact, it looked like the rout was developing before our eyes in the first half, just not in the direction many anticipated.
Auburn came out of the gate blazing, dominating both sides. And for the first time all season, Florida State and its Heisman winner looked vulnerable.
When the Tigers went up 21-3 on a Nick Marshall touchdown run deep into the second quarter, it felt like another snoozer was developing. A fake punt by Florida State, however, led to crucial first-half points for the Seminoles, a bold call and turning point of sorts for head coach Jimbo Fisher.
The second half proved to be a different story, and the fourth quarter provided emotional swings that each felt like the game-deciding play.
With the game suddenly in limbo, the final five minutes delivered 24 chaotic points.
Levonte Whitfield’s 100-yard kickoff return gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with four minutes remaining. It felt like the ultimate turning point, but then again the script was abandoned.
Auburn running back and Heisman finalist Tre Mason delivered another go-ahead score, finding the end zone from 37 yards out with just over a minute remaining.
And so the scene was set, a finish you couldn’t have drawn up any better if you tried. This year’s Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, got the ball with a minute left and a chance at more college football history.
A 49-yard reception from Florida State wideout Rashad Greene got the Seminoles' quick-moving drive started. Moments later, as FSU inched closer to the goal line, it was the freakishly gifted Kelvin Benjamin coming down with a two-yard touchdown with 13 seconds remaining, giving Florida State the 34-31 advantage.
Although Auburn tried to recapture its last-second magic on a few desperate plays—with everyone aware of this team’s potential to deliver the unthinkable—it was not to be this time.
Florida State capped off a magnificent comeback, winning the last crystal football that will ever be handed out. Finally, after a long, unsatisfying stretch, college football got the finish it deserves.
In recent years, national championship games have not been so lucky. In fact, a close second-half game was unfamiliar territory given recent finishes to the season.
First time in three years this game has been a one-score game in the second half.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 7, 2014
Not this year, though. And not at the end of an era.
Next year, it will be the College Football Playoff’s chance to deliver. The marketing department is already hard at work, ingraining this change in our brains well in advance.
As weird as it might sound, these are some rather large shoes to fill.
The BCS will pass the baton, exiting on the ultimate ending. It wasn’t perfect—not by any means—but it helped pave the way for moments that will live on. Moments like Monday night, a night where all the flaws and imperfections were tucked away for pure football bliss.
As ESPN's Brent Musburger said before the broadcast began, "A perfect ending to an imperfect system."
Oh, was it ever. Good show, BCS. Take a bow and enjoy the moment.
We certainly will.