It’s been a wild ride, Auburn. And perhaps wild doesn’t even begin to describe the season that was.
What began with little hope and robust 1000-1 odds to win the BCS National Championship Game ended with a thrilling, hard-fought 34-31 loss in the final BCS game ever played.
It wasn’t the storybook ending many were hoping for—including the limited bunch firmly grasping that 1000-1 ticket to the very end—but the journey itself is one to celebrate. It’s also one off which the program will build.
Along the way, long before Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin’s touchdown crushed Auburn’s hopes for an upset with 13 seconds left, there were moments. Some called it destiny.
Auburn was given the “team of destiny” label after a handful of miraculous and unexpected finishes. From the comeback at Texas A&M, to the miraculous fourth-down touchdown against Georgia, to the unforgettable finish against Alabama in the Iron Bowl...the Tigers' season is one divided into many distinct chapters.
Each was as incredible as the next, and these plays served as stepping stones—albeit unorthodox ones—to the national title. With each unlikely outcome, the “team of destiny” cries grew louder.
Over the course of the past month, the label gained further steam through football silence. And up until the very last second left the clock on Monday night—knowing just how valuable one second can be—this label remained.
“Destiny,” however, implies that the overall outcome was predetermined and that the process itself was somewhat moot. Destiny, in its purest form, skips over the path, choosing instead to focus on the final product.
After all, it was bound to happen regardless. It was destiny.
Luck played a role in this run to the championship, but it always plays a role. And while a handful of key plays will stand out along the way to Pasadena, this was a destiny that Auburn created.
Against Florida State on the biggest stage imaginable, the luck didn’t run out and destiny didn’t simply give in. Auburn just got beat by an exceptional team.
Up 21-3 in the second quarter, it felt like the unthinkable was unfolding. Auburn dominated on both offense and defense, and Florida State looked as if it was ready to give in.
It wasn’t. The Seminoles got a late first-half score in large part because of a beautifully executed fake punt, gaining some momentum before halftime.
After a relatively uneventful third quarter, FSU responded with 21 fourth-quarter points, capped off by Benjamin’s go-ahead touchdown after the Seminoles bled the clock close to zero. For Auburn, the clock finally struck midnight.
Destiny gave way to a different outcome, and the dream season took on a new, unfamiliar chapter. Even in a loss, however, this was a dream season for the Tigers.
"I'm very proud of my team, proud of these guys, how far they've come from the very first game to getting here, and just being on the brink of winning the whole thing," Malzahn said courtesy of auburntigers.com.
It’s disappointing, of course, as are all losses in games with this much on the line. It’s slightly more heartbreaking when you factor in the lead and momentum Auburn had going deep into the first half. There’s no sugarcoating that.
The notion of a moral victory is not one the team will want to hear, but there still is some perspective to be gained from the loss. There’s the foundation that has been built seemingly overnight, and the fact that a young roster will remain mostly intact for the 2014 season.
In four months, the perception of Auburn underwent a massive reconstruction. In seven months—when the Tigers return to fall practice—the expectations will be dramatically different thanks to their stunning season.
Although the best and most surprising story of the college football season ended just short of its ultimate ending, don’t let that take away from just how brilliant this run was.
Destiny is no more, and reality has set in. The reality for Auburn is that its Cinderella season has come to an end. The more significant reality, however, is that the Tigers are poised for another deep run next season.