NCAA Football News

BCS Championship 2014: Meet Kermit Whitfield, Florida State's Unsung Hero

PASADENA, Calif.: This wasn’t supposed to happen.

It was over in the first half when Auburn proved once again that the SEC is all there is to know in college football. Florida State played Duke in the ACC championship; they were supposed to be the cream of the crop, the best team in college football?

But then, inexplicably, the Seminoles started to creep back into it. First came a Roberto Aguayo field goal and then a touchdown pass to Chad Abram. The score of 21-10 was suddenly 21-20, and FSU was alive once more.

“As a quarterback you've got to always believe that you are never bigger than the game, and I was out there, I was so outcome oriented. I was like, 'man, I'm trying to blow these boys out,'” Jameis Winston said. “I had to remember, 'hey, I've got to respect the game. I've got teammates around me. I've got a team for a reason, so I can't go out there and do stuff by myself.' I took the initiative in the second half, 'hey, guys, we're here for a reason,' and I was like, 'I'm going to get on my A-game, I'm going to start doing what I need to do.'”

Auburn drove down the field for a field goal, and Florida State found itself in a fourth-quarter, adversity-filled situation for the first time this year. This is what America wanted, what it so desperately needed to know: Can the ‘Noles deal with getting hit in the mouth, or are they simply another soft, offense-only ACC cupcake?

Enter Kermit Whitfield.

The freshman wide receiver who is looked at as the fastest man in college football made the biggest play of the game, the biggest play of his life and possibly the biggest play in Florida State football history.

He read his blocks, hit his holes and outran anybody in a white jersey, leaving everybody behind en route to Florida State’s second kickoff return touchdown of the year. It was unbelievable, incomprehensible and unexplainable, but here it was, on the biggest stage in college football in the Granddaddy of Them All.

“Kermit is a big-time player,” Jimbo Fisher said. “He's a 10.1 in the 100 meters, third-fastest 100 meters in high school history. But this guy is going to be a big-time player. He has great hips, great acceleration, he's learning our offense and getting the touches, but in the open field he's as dynamic as anybody in America. He's as good as anybody I've ever been around and to do it at that stage—our team blocked very well—but he has that finishing speed, and I think the sky's the limit for that guy in his whole career here at Florida State.”

In the end, Kelvin Benjamin would become the hero for the Seminoles, snagging a pass from Winston to clinch the victory. But Kermit Whitfield, in his first season as a Seminole, will now forever live in lore. 

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SEC BCS Championship Streak Fun While It Lasted, but All Dynasties Must End

PASADENA, Calif. - It was fun while it lasted, but all great things must come to an end.

When Auburn running back Tre Mason was brought down by Florida State linebacker Telvin Smith on a failed hook-and-ladder play that looked from the sideline like the next in a series of improbable finishes to go the Tigers' way, it closed the curtain on one of the most remarkable streaks in American sports history.

For the previous seven seasons, a team from the SEC had ended the college football season hoisting the crystal football. In a sport that's grown to 125 members in the FBS and only plays 12 regular-season games, that's not easy to do. 

It takes talent, depth and a whole lot of luck to even be in position to get on that doorstep, much less walk through the door.

In the end, though, it was the Seminoles who rebounded from a sluggish start and hit Auburn with a dose of its own medicine on a Kermit Whitfield 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that gave the Seminoles a 27-24 lead with 4:31 to play. 

After Tre Mason led the Tigers to what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown to put the Tigers up four with 1:19 to play, Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston led his team straight down the field and found Kelvin Benjamin on a two-yard touchdown with 13 ticks on the clock to claim the title and end the SEC's streak.

It capped off an 18-point comeback for the Seminoles, which was the largest comeback in BCS history.

"The SEC is great football, I coached in that league for 13 years," Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I respect every bit of it, but there's some other folks in this country that can play some football, too."

Commissioner Mike Slive congratulated the Seminoles, according to to Chuck Dunlap of the SEC office.

Statement from Mike Slive: "The SEC's unprecedented string of consecutive national titles in the BCS era will be an enduring point of ...

— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) January 7, 2014

pride for our entire conference and we look forward to competing for more championships in the College Football Playoff era.'

— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) January 7, 2014

More Slive: "Congratulations to Florida State on its national championship and also to Auburn for a truly magical season."

— Chuck Dunlap (@SEC_Chuck) January 7, 2014

It was ended by the better team.

Florida State came in to this showdown without playing a close game all season but fought back from the early deficit, got the passing game going and exploited the weakest spot of the Auburn defense—its secondary. 

Cornerback Chris Davis was called for a pass interference on Rashad Greene with 18 seconds to play and was beat by Benjamin for the game-winner one play later.

So where does the SEC go from here?

We are heading into a new era now, and while teams from the same conference winning seven straight titles seems unlikely, the SEC will have more access to the meaningful part of college football's postseason in the four-team playoff starting after next season.

Does Auburn's loss coupled with Alabama's 42-31 loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl contribute to a perception change of the SEC? 

That remains to be seen, but its two highest-profile teams losing on big stages during bowl season—even though the Tigers were a double-digit underdog to the Seminoles—doesn't help that perception.

In college football, perception is reality.

Those two things fed off one another from 2006-12, and came to an end during the closing seconds in the final game of the BCS era.

It's only fitting. 

With a new set of rules in the new landscape, getting to the dance won't be as challenging. Becoming the prom king year after year will be a different story.

 

*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

 

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Florida State Bests Auburn as BCS Goes out in Blaze of Glory

PASADENA, Calif.—After 16 years, the BCS is finally dead. But it did not go away quietly.

And for that, college football is grateful.

Jameis Winston's 2-yard TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining capped the biggest comeback in the history of BCS' 16 championship games. On the same Rose Bowl field and in the same south end zone where Vince Young made his epic dash to immortality in 2006, Florida State's precocious Heisman-winning quarterback claimed his own place in college football lore—on his 20th birthday, no less.

Florida State's 34-31 victory over Auburn brought down the curtain on the BCS era, which began in the 1998 season when an SEC team (Tennessee) defeated the Seminoles for the first crystal ball. FSU would lose two of the first three BCS title games, but gained more than a measure of redemption Monday night for the rest of college football universe by ending the SEC's seven-year championship dominance.

It was fitting that the BCS era—and the SEC's reign—ended in the spiritual home of college football. In a brilliant evening at the Rose Bowl—home of the Granddaddy of 'Em All—the much-maligned BCS had the ultimate setting, with game-time temperature of 69 degrees, against the backdrop of San Gabriel Mountains at dusk and a packed house of 94,208. 

Early on, though, the game threatened to be a runaway and another SEC romp. Auburn took a 21-3 lead with five minutes left in the first half and was on the verge to break it open as a flustered Winston was unable to move the ball. Florida State's defense also had trouble with Auburn's no-huddle pace, giving up eight of 12 third-down conversion opportunities.

But as FSU's defense stiffened in the second half, Winston and the Seminoles clawed back.

After cutting Auburn's lead to 21-20 early in the fourth quarter, the game reached a glorious crescendo in the final five minutes. The teams traded four scores in the final 4:42, featuring a 105-yard kickoff return by FSU's Kermit Whitfield and a 37-yard scamper by Auburn's Tre Mason that looked like the game-winner before Winston led the Noles' actual winning drive in a mere 58 seconds.

FSU's victory is a vindication that there is more to college football than the SEC. But ironically, it was the vision that came from the SEC that helped forge the BCS and remake college football into the spectacle it is today.

Before the BCS, college football was mostly a regional affair, with each major conference having its respective bowl tie-ins. Media members and coaches would vote on the national champion at the end of each season, divining the superiority of one team over another purely on speculation, since many of the top contenders never met each other on the field.

From the end of World War II until the advent of the BCS in 1998, the Rose Bowl never featured a team not coming from either the Big Ten or Pac-10 (now Pac-12) conference.

It took former SEC commissioner Roy Kramer, the godfather of the BCS, to finally persuade the Big Ten, Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl—the most venerable and prestigious bowl game—to loosen their alliance to allow the top two ranked teams to play for the title annually.

In the 1998 Rose Bowl, the final one played before the BCS' creation, Michigan won a split national championship, the fourth consecutive split winner produced in Pasadena. After the advent of the BCS, there had been just one split championship, in 2003, when USC won the Rose Bowl and the AP title while LSU took the BCS title at the Sugar Bowl.

In the 2006 Rose Bowl, which remains the highest-rated game in college football history, Texas ended two-time defending champion USC's dynasty when it overcame a 12-point deficit as Vince Young scored from five yards out with 19 seconds remaining to snap the Trojans' 34-game winning streak.

Eight years later, the Seminoles dug themselves out of an 18-point hole and broke the SEC's seven-year stranglehold—and the state of Alabama's four-year ownership—on the crystal ball.

"The ACC is good football, folks," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher spoke up for his conference in particular and non-SEC football in general after the game. "It's a great football conference. We have a great commissioner, we have great coaches, we've got great players. We had 11 teams in bowl games. The SEC is great football, I coached in that league for 13 years, I respect every bit of it. But there's some other folks in this country that can play some football, too."

That sentiment will be put to test again next year when college football moves into the next phase with the four-team College Football Playoff. The two semifinal games will be played at the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, with the winners advancing to the championship game at the Dallas Cowboys' palace in Arlington, Texas.

But thank heavens there was no need for another game this year. The season ended in spectacular fashion and in the right place. The BCS might be dead, but it bequeathed college football an unforgettable parting gift.

Follow on Twitter @BCSGuru

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BCS Championship 2014: It's Not Ready Yet, but ESPN's Megacast Is the Future

ESPN went all-in on its coverage of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game, dubbing it the "BCS Megacast," and hoping to give fans innovate and new ways to view a football game. 

After taking in Florida State's 34-31 comeback victory over Auburn in those new ways, it's clear that ESPN has something it can work with, but there are things that need to be reworked—just like anything version 1.0 really.

The good news if you're ESPN is that the reaction of the fans has been very positive, and rightfully so.

While the broadcast experience may be different, the fact is the way fans consume the game today is different, and consuming more information while seeing the game unfold has become more important than ever before. 

To that end, the mothership found a way to marry viewing the game with consuming information in a way that can work in the future. 

More importantly, ESPN found a way to cater to all demographics while not appearing to be overdoing it in any one aspect. You could switch from the regular broadcast to its "Film Room" coverage and again over to "Title Talk" and not miss the core of the game. 

Twitter itself has become a great judge of what does and doesn't work with the public-at-large, and judging by the response of the Twitterverse, this type of coverage could have a bright future ahead of itself. 

Two parts of the telecast gave fans ways to watch the game that haven't been seen before, and after taking in both, it was hit or miss and nothing in between. 

"BCS Film Room," airing on ESPNEWS, was the way I found myself wanting to watch the game, and I wasn't alone—that version of the game was a massive hit all over social media. 

ESPN also gave fans that wanted the regular viewing experience, minus Brent Musberger and Kirk Herbstreit, a chance to tune in to the radio feeds of each school, via ESPN3 and the watchESPN app.

For those who were into the more social aspect of these events, there was "BCS Title Talk," over on ESPN2—which featured ESPN personalities, celebrities and highlights from Twitter blazing across the screen.

The biggest responses came via the two new ways of watching the game, "Film Room" and "Title Talk." However, only one of these two has great potential to change viewership of the game, and that was "Film Room." 

Current head coaches Kevin Sumlin, Steve Addazio and Paul Chryst joined ESPN analysts Tom Luginbill, Matt Millen and Chris Spielman in the "Film Room," where they gave fans a split screen view of the game from two different angles. 

For those who witness Big Ten football, the names Millen and Spielman could make you not want to view, but the good news is they served as facilitators of discussion and not the focal points—that's where the coaches came in. 

Even better, you got none of Musberger and Herbstreit and all of the coaches talking the X's and O's of the game as it unfolded in front of you. 

It was like walking into a coaching clinic for free.

For the hardcore football fan, this look could have a huge future because it has two things that make sports television work—educating fans while also entertaining, and that's not an easy mix to make work in a new way of presenting live sports. 

One of the better parts of the "Film Room" coverage came at halftime and not just for the lack of cheesy halftime performances and overabundance of commercials, but more so for the fact that those tuning in got a glimpse into how the coaches minds work between halves. 

However, the single best moment came minutes earlier as the entire cast called FSU's fake punt before it even happened. 

Florida State's touchdown near the end of the second quarter was a great example of "calling it," as both Sumlin and Addazio saw the blocking setup before the handoff happened and called the touchdown. 

There were kinks in the system from time to time, but the ability to see how the game unfolds from the minds of coaches in real time is a rarity, and it added, rather than subtracted, from the viewing experience. 

For those who don't take their football too seriously and are more into the entertainment value of the game, ESPN made an attempt to have some fun with "Title Talk." 

The issue was, what ESPN was going for—an interactive and reactive broadcast—just felt forced and uninspired at times. 

Of course, ESPN couldn't resist trotting out its newest acquisition in Tim Tebow, alongside Johnny Manziel, during halftime and into the third quarter of the broadcast on the deuce.

Luckily for them, Tebow held his own and actually made the "Title Talk," worth watching. 

Again, a theme emerged on that side of the broadcast: The less attempts at comedy and the more X's and O's chatter, the better the broadcast became. 

Whether it was Tebow talking about why FSU's defense made a switch from a 3-4 base to the 4-3 to open the second half or Manziel's insight as to why Auburn's wide receivers were their secret weapon—that kind of talk worked. 

However, when the group went off the football talk and tried to get funny or cute, things just felt forced and awkward, and it took away from the intensity and intrigue of the game. 

ESPN's rotating group of comedians, celebrities and football personalities was just a bit much, especially with the five different camera angles going on at the same time and one person trying to reign in the broadcast by reading tweets. 

Isn't that what being on Twitter and using whatever app suites your fancy is for though? I don't need to be reading it on my television screen. 

Anchoring a broadcast on what is happening via Twitter also made the broadcast feel forced at times, especially because ESPN force-fed "amazing" (their words) stats and tweets from it's personalities and fans tweeting at ESPN only. 

What really made the "Title Talk" fall flat was its inability to mix sound. Oftentimes, it was hard to hear what a guest or analyst was saying over the raw sound from the original broadcast. 

Credit ESPN with trying something different and trying to cater to the different styles of fans across the country, but there is clearly some work that needs to be done before this type of viewing becomes commonplace for big events. 

Give us more of the coaches and the analysts talking X's and O's and less of celebs making jokes, and the future of college football's biggest stage could be very bright. 

For the neutral fan, options in how to watch a game like this only enhance the viewing experience. Now, it's on ESPN to give it a few tweaks and continue to experiment with how it uses the multiple platforms it has.

Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response of the fans, there should be a version 2.0 of the "Megacast" in the very near future; and sports viewing may never be the same—in the best way possible—because of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.

 

Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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Florida State vs. Auburn: BCS Has to Go, but What a Way to End It

It didn’t feel real. None of it felt real. The final five minutes of it all 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 Hollywood 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 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 up 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.

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BCS Championship 2014: This Is the Best Freshman Season You Will Ever See

From historic start to furious finish, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston's freshman season was as close to perfection as can be excepted of a player on the field. 

As his pass in the final moments of the final BCS Championship Game ever landed safely in wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin's hands, sealing the Seminoles' 34-31 victory over Auburn, the gravity of Winston's year set in. He completed the greatest freshman season ever in college football, and every first-year player to follow has an immeasurably high bar to meet. 

Now, the 24/7 nature of sports media today often results in a rush to deem players and moments on historic scales. "Best" is used so often, it loses context. But given Winston reached three milestones, any one of which indicates an outstanding campaign for any player, and did so in his first go-around, his redshirt freshman campaign can be fairly deemed the best. 

Undefeated season? Check.

Heisman Trophy? Check.

National championship? Check—though it wasn't easy. 

Winston appeared consumed by the moment early, badly missing his targets and taking a few bone-rattling hits from Auburn defenders. His first-half performance was a harsh reminder, and one of the few this season, that Winston is indeed a first-year quarterback.

That was a fact sometimes easy to forget. From the moment he first took the field, going 25-of-27 with four passing touchdowns and a fifth score on the ground in a 41-13 rout of Pittsburgh on Sept. 2, Winston was on a different plane than other first-year players before him.   

"I knew this guy since freshman year out there on scout team was making plays,” cornerback Lamarcus Joyner told Sports Illustrated following Winston's debut. “Fifth-year senior EJ Manuel wasn’t making throws like that, and I said to myself this guy’s going to be special."

Every week, he made plays that freshmen simply don't make, like his half-ending touchdown toss against Boston College on Sept. 28. 

Prior to Auburn's 21-3 first-half lead Monday, Boston College's early 17-3 edge over Florida State was the widest deficit Winston found himself on the wrong side of this season.

Winston responded in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and he responded again in Pasadena, Calif., on the biggest stage with a steely resolve that belies his 20 years of age. 

Both of his touchdowns and 185 of his 237 passing yards came after intermission. In the course of 30 minutes, Winston underwent an on-field maturation—fitting, given Monday was his 20th birthday and he is no longer a teenager. 

Because of the challenge Auburn presented Winston early, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher called the BCS Championship the quarterback's best game all season. 

In a season of so many standout performances for Winston, that's particularly high praise. It's also the most fitting cap to a benchmark every freshman who lines up on Saturdays will strive to match for years to come.  

The reality is players are ready to contribute more, and quicker. Elite prep recruits arrive to the college game bigger, stronger and faster than they were even just 10 years ago. Instant impact freshmen aren't just here to stay—soon, there will be more of them. 

Someday, another freshman will win the Heisman Trophy. Perhaps a true freshman can trump Winston and 2012 Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, both of whom won college football's most coveted individual honor after redshirt years. 

Someday, another freshman quarterback might register more impressive overall statistics than Winston. 

Someday, another freshman will lead his team to a national championship, perhaps in the culmination of a perfect season. 

But will another freshman accomplish it all in one season? Until it happens, Winston's 2013 can definitively be touted as the best ever for a freshman. 

 

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LSU's Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. Making Right Move to Enter NFL Draft

LSU fans are going to miss Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. 

Beckham and Landry were so smooth and fun. The junior tandem produced an aerial attack LSU fans have not seen since JaMarcus Russell ran the show in 2006.

"ODB" and "Juice" combined for over 2,300 receiving yards on 136 receptions and 18 touchdowns. They were the best wide receiver tandem in the SEC.   

Multiple media outlets are reporting Beckham and Landry will declare for the 2014 NFL draft. They still have one year remaining of eligibility. 

Les Miles could desperately use the help of Beckham and Landry to win games next season. Miles was saved from heavy criticism when the Tigers barely defeated Arkansas thanks largely in part to miraculous catches from Landry. 

Beckham and Landry are game-breakers who will be tough to replace. No other LSU wide receiver who returns next season caught more than one pass in any game. 

LSU fans should be happy for the receiving duo. They are doing what is best for them. 

Beckham and Landry must leave now while their stocks are high. They proved to be productive in a balanced, pro-style offense. Bleacher Report's NFL Draft Lead Analyst Matt Miller has given both of them a late first-round grade.  

Beckham and Landry's production would decrease next season with the loss of senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. 

Mettenberger's arm had as much to do with the duo's success as anything. His accuracy and mechanics improved under first-year offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. 

Mettenberger did not play in the 2014 Outback Bowl against Iowa. Freshman replacement quarterback Anthony Jennings struggled, as did Beckham and Landry. They finished with a season-low combined total of four catches for 56 yards. 

Jennings could eventually be a great passer. But it will be tough for him to ever fling the rock like Mettenberger, especially next season. Beckham and Landry know this, which is why they should leave now.

Fans should be happy for them. Beckham and Landry exceeded expectations this season. The highly touted duo could have gone to a more pass-happy school, but the Louisiana natives chose to stay close to home. 

College football fans will never forget the one-handed catches, special teams genius and all-out effort Beckham and Landry displayed every Saturday. Hopefully, the show will continue on Sundays next season.  

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

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Rashad Greene Comes Up Huge in FSU's National Championship Win

Jameis Winston was deservedly named MVP of Florida State's BCS National Championship win on Monday night, but the Seminoles wouldn't have won if it weren't for Rashad Greene. 

Although the dynamic junior wide receiver piled up 147 yards on nine receptions in the instant-classic 34-31 victory, his numbers—as crazy as it sounds considering the enormity of them—don't quite do his performance justice. It was the timing and the importance of his catches that set his outing apart. 

We might as well start with the most crucial of the bunch. 

With Florida State trailing by four and just over a minute remaining, Winston looked Greene's way—and it paid off in a massive fashion. Greene, who early became the first 'Noles wide receiver to tally 1,000 yards in a season since Anquan Boldin, pulled in an eight-yard reception on the first play of the drive. On the next, he turned a seven-yard route into a 49-yard gain to set up the 'Noles for the national championship-winning score. 

John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader summed up the moment, calling it the "play of the drive":

Greene talked about the integral play afterward, via ESPN's Joe Schad:

I'd say so.

The speedy receiver was clutch for the entirety of the game. Let's take a look at some of the numbers. 

Of his nine receptions, six went for first downs, including a 29-yard grab on 3rd-and-16 that set up an opening field goal for the 'Noles.

Moreover, every time he was involved in the offense, good things were happening for Florida State. Greene caught passes on five of FSU's 12 offensive drives. On four of those, the Seminoles put points on the board. For comparison, they had five scoring possessions (not counting Kermit Whitfield's kickoff return for touchdown) all game.

Essentially, in one way or another, getting the ball in Greene's hands typically equaled points of some kind. 

It's not surprising Winston won MVP. He put together a tremendous second half after a forgettable start, and considering the sexy story (freshman quarterback, Heisman winner, etc.), there was really no way he wasn't going to be given the award.

But Greene deserves praise for one of the most underrated, clutch performances you'll see in a national championship. Without him, the Auburn Tigers and Tre Mason are celebrating right now. 

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BCS Championship 2014: Tre Mason Breaks Bo Jackson's Record, NFL GMs Salivate

There was no way Auburn running back Tre Mason was going to win the Heisman. 

Neither was quarterback Jordan Lynch from Northern Illinois, for that matter. Or Alabama's AJ McCarron or Boston College running back Andre Williams. Even reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel didn't stand much of a chance. Rather, they were all essentially runner-ups to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who became the second straight redshirt freshman to win the award last month. 

It was a landslide for Winston, winning by the seventh-largest total in Heisman history

But Mason nearly outshined Winston in the BCS National Championship Game Monday night, a 34-31 win for Florida State. While Winston was contained and pressured most of the game by the Tigers' surprisingly good defense, Mason broke free. 

The junior proved to be an important component of Auburn's offense, running the ball 34 times for 195 yards and a touchdown. He also had a 12-yard touchdown reception. 

Mason's performance gives him 1,816 yards on the season, passing Bo Jackson's all-time Auburn rushing record of 1,786 yards. The record-breaking evening comes just one game after Mason broke the SEC Championship's single-game rushing record with 304 yards. 

Jackson, the 1985 Heisman winner, is regarded as one of the best college players ever. Even coming close to Jackson's production, let alone surpassing it, is huge for Mason. 

“Run north and south,” Mason said Jackson told him via the Opelika-Auburn News. “Don’t waste no movement going east and west. Just run right at them.”

While Mason didn't bring home the Heisman, he almost stole the show away from Winston. Mason's longest run of the day, 37 yards, couldn't have come at a more crucial time with 1:19 left in the game to put the Tigers up 31-27. 

It was only when Winston helped orchestrate a seven-play, 80-yard drive to score the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds remaining did he surpass Mason as the game's most valuable player. The 16th and final BCS National Championship will go down as an all-timer, and Mason's performance helped make it possible. 

Once the disappointment subsides, it will be time for Mason to look toward his future. As a junior, he has a decision to make: Come back for another season as sure-fire preseason Heisman candidate, or declare for the upcoming NFL draft. 

Since quarterback Nick Marshall will likely be coming back for another season as well, the opportunity is there for the Tigers to repeat as SEC champions and make it to the first four-team College Football Playoff. The sting of what could have been may be enough to keep Mason around for another year. 

At the same time, his pro prospects are promising. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tweets that, if Mason leaves the college game right away, he has a good chance to start for an NFL team in 2014. 

Miller lists Mason as an early second-round prospect while B/R's Michael Felder says, "Mason is a quality back who can be counted on to pick up positive yardage on most plays. He runs with the violent aggression of someone who is hungry to get those extra yards. That approach is reflected in his ability to get first downs and yards after contact."

Mason has good speed, toughness, decent enough size and can contribute in the passing game. He's played in every game the past two years, so durability hasn't been an issue, which is especially impressive considering the number of carries he's been getting lately. 

All signs point to Mason leaving The Plains for the greener grass of the NFL. No one could blame him if he did. 

If the 2014 BCS National Championship was Mason's last game as an Auburn Tiger, he made his team, his fanbase and even Jackson proud. 

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BCS Championship 2014: Despite Disappointing Ending Auburn Is Here to Stay

PASADENA, Calif. — Team of destiny?

The Auburn Tigers were a team of destiny during the 2013 season, but unfortunately, 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 80 yards down the field in seven plays in just 58 seconds and hit Kelvin Benjamin on a two-yard pass with 13 seconds to play to win the BCS Championship and hand the Tigers their second loss of the season.

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 that led the Tigers to the second-best offense in the SEC (505.3 YPG). Included in those pieces is 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 own 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, nothing 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 247Sports.com, with eight of those commits or signees being defenders with four or more stars in the 247Sports.com composite index. 

That's a scary thought.

Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense has proven to be kryptonite for intrastate rival Nick Saban, and 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 enough 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.

 

 

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Florida State Debunks Myth That Only Battle-Tested Teams Win Championships

The Florida State Seminoles answered the bell, again, in the BCS National Championship Game, putting to bed all the speculation about whether or not this team could handle a close contest late into the fourth quarter. As folks pushed the idea that the Seminoles' lack of close game experience was a negative, Monday night's championship win, 34-31 over the Auburn Tigers, proved the doubters wrong.

The BCS National Championship, played in the Rose Bowl, was a game that saw the Auburn Tigers jump out to a big early lead, forcing Florida State into unfamiliar territory. Down 21-3 in the second quarter, Florida State had to answer the bell.

And the Seminoles did what they have done all season, respond in a big way. This team scored 17 unanswered points to pull within one of the Tigers. Then, following an Auburn field goal, Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield took a kickoff to the house to put the Seminoles ahead of the Tigers.

Florida State's work was not done, following an Auburn touchdown on a phenomenal Tre Mason run, the Seminoles were faced with going 80 yards with 1:19 on the clock facing a 31-27 deficit. Oddly enough, unlike many people speculated, Jimbo Fisher's team did not fold. Fisher's team was not uncertain of what to do in the tense situation under the bright lights. 

Rather, the Seminoles proved that just because they boat-raced everyone on the schedule did not mean they were incapable of handling a tight contest.

Following a rough game, Winston put together a masterful drive. He completed 6-of-7 passes, including the first four consecutive passes to start the drive, grabbing 68 yards of the 80 necessary to go for the score. After a game full of errant passes, slow reads and poor decisions, Winston came alive when his team needed him the most, flying directly in the face of folks who expected a collapse as the moments got bigger in Pasadena.

It was not simply Winston's doing, the quarterback's final pass of the game was to Kelvin Benjamin for a touchdown. Benjamin struggled to get open, had some uncharacteristic drops and was a non-factor for the bulk of the game. Yet, when the chips were down, the Seminoles' receiver showed up in a major way.

Defensively, although the Florida State Seminoles gave up the most rushing yards and total offense of the season, the unit deserves to be applauded for bowing its neck and fighting for 60 minutes. Auburn found big plays in the pass game early, but defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt fixed the back-end without sacrificing his run defense; something teams like Alabama were unable to do.

232 yards on the ground was not the ideal number for the Seminoles; especially with Mason's 37-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put Auburn back on top. However, those 232 yards were the Tigers' lowest total since the loss to LSU in Week Four, and the third lowest total on the season as a whole. In other words, the Seminoles' effort was one of the best against Gus Malzahn's ground attack on the year.

In crunch time, when the pressure was the highest, Florida State showed up, something ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit called an "unknown" prior to the game. The Seminoles held the Tigers scoreless for over 30 minutes of game-time, allowing the offense to claw its way back into the contest. The heat was on and this Florida State team, who was a question mark to some because they had not been forced to play a full 60 minutes, remained as cool as it has been all season.

Jimbo Fisher's team was mighty good all season long, and when the chips were down and it mattered the most, his team was solid, again. It took the 'Noles a little while to settle into the game, but in the end it was the Seminoles proving they were prepared, they were ready for the pressure and they could overcome the adversity.

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Auburn vs FSU: Jameis Winston Builds NFL Value with BCS Championship Performance

Jameis Winston isn't allowed to enter the 2014 NFL draft, and he is going to be hard-pressed to increase his NFL value any more than what it already is for the 2015 draft. 

The Heisman Trophy winner survived an abysmal first half to lead his Florida State Seminoles to a comeback, 34-31, victory in the BCS title game. 

It wasn't just any comeback either. It was the biggest comeback in the history of the BCS title game:

The Seminoles trailed 21-10 entering halftime, and their title chances looked bleak. The biggest reason for the dismal outlook was the play of Winston. The freshman quarterback had been nearly flawless all season, but he was erratic and sloppy in the first half. 

He finished the half by going 6-of-15 passing for 62 yards and no touchdowns. 

Facing a constant stream of pressure from Auburn's pass rush, Winston didn't get a lot better early in the second. Florida State's defense began to play better, though, which gave Winston and the offense a chance. 

Florida State battled and finally took the lead in the fourth quarter on a kickoff-return touchdown by Levonte Whitfield with 4:31 left to go in the game. That lead didn't last long. Auburn's Tre Mason went for a 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 left in the game. 

That set the stage for Winston, and he was phenomenal under the bright lights and intense pressure of leading a two-minute drill in the BCS title game. 

On the final drive, Winston went 6-of-7 passing for 77 yards and hit the lengthy Kelvin Benjamin with a perfectly placed high ball with just 13 seconds left. 

Not a bad birthday present for the quarterback who turned 20 on the day of the BCS title game: 

Winston finished the game going 20-of-35 for 237 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. That was good for a quarterback rating of 132.9. That is his second-lowest rating of the season, so obviously, this was far from his most flawless game from start to finish. 

Don't tell Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher that: 

As we discussed, based solely on stats, this wasn't even close to Winston's best game. Also just going on a throw-by-throw basis, it was far from his best game. 

His accuracy was off early, and he was not going through his progressions. 

Entering the locker room at halftime and even well into the third quarter, it would've been easy to say this was Winston's worst game of the season, and that is exactly what made this performance so special. 

Winston shrugged off the struggles and remained undaunted as the leader of his football team, and soon, his play turned around. 

When the pressure was at its highest, the game seemed to slow down for Winston. Not only did his accuracy increase, but he was also doing a better job of going through his progressions and making the right read. 

This kind of ability to handle pressure and rise above the moment in the clutch is invaluable in quarterbacks. It is also difficult to gauge unless given a setting like this. 

It was really hard with Winston since Florida State went through the season undefeated and barely trailed or played a close game. 

This was the only question mark hanging over Winston heading into this game. The 6'4", 228-pound quarterback had demonstrated the arm strength, accuracy and mechanics that it takes to make it in the NFL, and now he has proven he will make plays when the game is on the line. 

Barring anything but a disastrous season, injury or off-the-field issues, I have no doubt Winston will be the No. 1 selection in the 2015 draft should he decide to go pro. 

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Auburn vs FSU Highlights: Top Plays from BCS Title Game

It wasn't easy, but the Florida State Seminoles are the final BCS national champions. Behind a strong second-half effort, the 'Noles came back from an 18-point deficit to win a thriller, 34-31.

Bleacher Report was one of the first to bless the champs with an artful social media acknowledgement.

Florida State outscored the Auburn Tigers 24-10 in the second half and used a bevy of big plays to turn Gus Malzahn's group away. Winston validated his Heisman Trophy after a rough first half.

Here's his emotional postgame interview.

He completed 20 of his 35 passes for 237 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Rashad Greene had nine receptions and 147 yards receiving.

Winston's counterpart Nick Marshall played a decent game—sans a few mistakes. He had 275 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns. The game's other Heisman finalist, Tre Mason, ran for 195 yards and had two touchdowns.

Check out how Mason's day ranks when compared to entire teams that faced Florida State in 2013.

Here are the highlights from this epic game.

 

First Quarter

The Tigers missed an opportunity early in the first quarter. With the Seminoles hell bent on stopping the run game, Nick Marshall had a chance to put his team up 7-0. Instead he threw the ball short to Ricardo Louis. It turned out to be a 10-point swing as Florida State took the next possession down the field and converted a field goal.

Tre Mason and Auburn let it be known they were in Pasadena to win. The Heisman Trophy finalist caught this swing pass to give the Tigers a 7-3 lead.

As ESPN Stats notes, the Tigers put the Seminoles in rare air by jumping ahead early.

 

Second Quarter

Marshall gets a second chance to make a big play down the middle of the field. He hit Melvin Ray with this 50-yard touchdown strike. The score gave the Tigers a commanding 14-3 lead after the extra point.

Slowly, but surely, Marshall was making the Seminoles' defense respect him. Warchant.com points out how Marshall was outplaying Winston to this point.

Cody Parkey had a very makeable 33-yard field goal attempt that could have put the Tigers up 17-3, but he didn't hook it enough, and it also appeared to be short. These are the types of plays that teams look back on when they lose close games.

Things really looked bleak for the 'Noles late in the first half. Auburn was getting tons of pressure on Winston. On this play, the Heisman Trophy winner was forced to cough the ball up.

The blitz was clearly giving Winston problems. ESPN Stats breaks it down for us.

The Tigers recovered the fumble and it turned into this...

Marshall showed his elite speed to take it in from four yards out. Auburn had a huge 21-3 lead at this point.

On Florida State's final drive, it looked as if the Tigers had forced another Florida State punt. The Seminoles faked it and ran an end around that went for seven yards and a first down.

The fourth-down conversion led to this clumsy, but effective scramble from Winston. Florida State turned this into a big touchdown before the half. They went into the intermission down 21-10.

Clemson Tigers standout wide receiver Sammy Watkins is rolling with the ACC in this one. He cautions everyone to calm down.

 

Fourth Quarter

Florida State added a field goal in the third quarter to make the score 21-13.

In the final period, Marshall made one of his few really poor decisions in the game.

He threw this pass into double coverage and it was picked off by P.J. Williams. Williams fumbled the ball, but his teammate Lamarcus Joyner recovered it for Florida State. 

The pick led to this 11-yard touchdown pass to Chad Abram. Florida State closed to 21-19 with the score.

After the touchdown pass, Devontae Freeman was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting the Tigers' sideline. It was a dumb move by Freeman, but a soft call considering the situation.

Nonetheless, the penalty made going for a two-point conversion and the tie more difficult. The 'Noles settled for the extra point and put the score at 21-20.

With star defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan gassed on the sideline, the 'Noles came up with a crucial third-down stand inside their own 10-yard line. It forced the Tigers to settle for the field goal to make the game 24-20 in favor of the Tigers.

The score set up this...

Levonte Whitfield took the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for the go-ahead score. All of a sudden, the Seminoles were up 27-24. Explosive.

With 4:31 left, things didn't look promising for the Tigers. After Marshall made a few solid throws, Tre La Soul had what looked a lot like a Heisman moment. He broke off this 37-yard touchdown run to make it 31-27.

Bleacher Report captures Mason striking a pose.

Brandon Marcello of the Mobile Press-Register tells us that Mason's scamper broke the great Bo Jackson's single-season rushing record.

Would it be a late-season Auburn game without a wild finish?

With just 1:19 remaining in the game, Winston was placed in a position to prove he deserved to be the Heisman winner. A 49-yard completion to Rashad Greene had Florida State in business.

This pass interference against Chris Davis put the ball on the 2-yard line.

Winston went to his go-to man Kelvin Benjamin in the red zone. The 6'5" stud that could double as a shooting guard gave the 'Noles a 33-31 lead. The extra point made it 34-31 and handed Florida State the national championship.

What a game.

 

All stats per ESPN.com

 

Follow me. Sports are what I do.

 

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BCS National Championship Game 2014: Most Memorable Photos from Auburn vs. FSU

The Florida State Seminoles sent the BCS out in style on Monday, Jan. 6, winning their first national championship in 14 years in a 34-31 come-from-behind victory over the Auburn Tigers.

Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston struggled throughout the first half, but made big plays when he had to down the stretch, completing the go-ahead touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining to conclude a stellar second half for the Seminoles, who trailed 21-3 with under two minutes to play in the first half. 

Winston would come away with game MVP honors. 

Meanwhile, Auburn's Tre Mason racked up 237 total yards and two total touchdowns in a losing effort.

Here we'll relive the best moments from the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.

Begin Slideshow

Jameis Winston Named MVP of 2014 BCS National Championship Game

In what was the perfect season for a college football quarterback, Jameis Winston was able to lead a game-winning drive to take the BCS National Championship and was named the MVP of the game in the Florida State Seminoles' 34-31 win over the Auburn Tigers.

When discussing the perfect season in college football, an undefeated season, a Heisman trophy and a national championship win come to mind.  Winston was able to do all of those things in 2013-14.

Despite being down 21-3 in the second quarter, the Seminoles were able to pull off an incredible comeback win.  Winston found Kelvin Benjamin for the game-winning touchdown in the end zone.

That's not bad for a 20th birthday.

After the game, Winston had this to say about the big win according to Patrik Nohe from the Miami Herald and Bo Mattingly from Sports Talk With Bo.

Winston seriously struggled early in the game.  He missed a lot of easy throws, made some bad reads and even lost a fumble early on.  But the team rallied in the second half, and Winston was more comfortable in the pocket, making some better throws.

The final numbers were solid for Winston.  He completed 20 of 35 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns, with the final score with just 13 seconds remaining giving his team the national title.

But when looking at what he did for the entire season, it's safe to say that Winston had the perfect year.

Growing up as a fan of Vince Young, Mike Berrardino from the St. Paul Pioneer Press made a note connecting Winston with his idol.

For the year, Winston completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions.  His strong numbers helped him win the Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp Award and Davey O'Brien Award.  He was also named the ACC Player of the Year and a consensus All-American among other awards and titles.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Auburn's Cam Newton and USC's Matt Leinart have been the only quarterbacks since 1950 to go undefeated, win the national title and win the Heisman Trophy in the same year.

As a redshirt freshman, Winston was able to do what few players have been able to do in their college careers in just a single season.  He'll be playing at least one more season at Florida State before having to make a decision about his future, but it's safe to say that Winston had one of the greatest seasons any college football player has ever had.

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College Football Final 2014 Rankings: B/R's Official Top 25

The SEC's BCS National Championship reign ended as the BCS era came to a close. The Florida State Seminoles closed out a perfect season with a pulse-pounding 34-31 win over the Auburn Tigers at the Rose Bowl. 

There's no debate about who is No. 1: It's the 'Noles.

But where did the Tigers land—and how far did the Alabama Crimson Tide fall after their Sugar Bowl defeat to Oklahoma?

Click on to see Bleacher Report's final Top 25 rankings for the 2013-14 season.

Poll voters: Chris Bello, Eric Bowman, Carter Bryant, Phil Callihan, Andrew Coppens, Bill Eichenberger, Michael Felder, Trenise Ferreira, Sean Frye, Kyle Kensing, Ben Kercheval, Sanjay KirpalaniAdam Kramer, David Luther, Max RauschDavid Regimbal, Barrett Sallee, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence, Greg Wallace.

Voting procedure: Each voter submitted his or her Top 25 poll and votes were totaled as such: 25 points for No. 1 vote, 24 points for No. 2 and so on.

Previous rankings from Bleacher Report's Week 16 Top 25.

Begin Slideshow

Arizona State Football: Biggest Concerns Heading into the Offseason

The Arizona State football team had a very successful 2013 season, winning the Pac-12 South title and coming within one win of the Rose Bowl.

By most accounts, the season was a great success—until the final two games.

The Sun Devils were 60 minutes away from playing in the Granddaddy of Them All before the Stanford Cardinal pummeled them. Even with the bad 38-14 loss in the Pac-12 Championship game, fans were still excited to see their Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl.

That excitement quickly faded after kickoff, however, as the Texas Tech Red Raiders dominated ASU in the Holiday Bowl, and the Sun Devils ended up limping out of the season with two bad losses.

Those losses exposed some weaknesses for Arizona State and showed that there are a few major areas of concern for the Sun Devils heading into the offseason.

The Sun Devils need to prepare better for big games, help Taylor Kelly develop more as a passer and find out how to replace a lot of defensive playmakers this offseason if they want to repeat as Pac-12 South Champions.

 

Preparation for Big Games

Arizona State hasn't performed well when the lights are at their brightest recently.

The Sun Devils lost nationally televised games to Notre Dame, Stanford (twice) and Texas Tech this past season.

In three of those four games, analysts actually picked Arizona State to win.

Omitting the first meeting with the Stanford Cardinal, the Sun Devils should have won, or at least been competitive, in all of those games. Mental errors cost ASU against the Fighting Irish, but in the Pac-12 Championship game and Holiday Bowl the Sun Devils were just out coached.

Head coach Todd Graham and his staff didn't have their team prepared for those final two games, and it showed, as ASU lost by a combined score of 75-37.

SI.com writer Stewart Mandel also weighed in on ASU's inability to win the big one after the embarrassing loss to Texas Tech:

ASU did come up with a huge road win against UCLA at the end of the year to secure the Pac-12 South crown, but they almost choked that game away late.

This offseason, Graham and his staff need to work on getting their team prepared better for these big games. The Sun Devils came out flat on the road a lot in 2013, and when the spotlight was on the team it seemed to crumble.

For ASU to make the Rose Bowl next year, that can't happen.

 

Development of Quarterback Taylor Kelly

At the start of the season, Kelly looked like a young Jake Plummer.

He started the year throwing for 300 yards or more in the Sun Devils' first five games. After that, though, his numbers decreased significantly.

Kelly did not pass 200 yards four times in the Sun Devils' last six games.

Near the very end of the year when the pressure was on, Kelly really crumbled. He became gun-shy and didn't seem confident in his arm or decision-making.

This really showed in the Holiday Bowl, where the Sun Devils threw for a season low of 125 yards.

This offseason, Kelly needs to become confident in his game.

The Sun Devils will return some key playmakers on offense next year, and with Kelly in his senior season, they should put up big offensive numbers again.

For that to happen, Kelly needs to develop his ability to read defenses and have confidence in his game.

 

Replacing Key Defensive Starters

Two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, Alden Darby, Osahon Irabor, Chris Young, Davon Coleman, Gannon Conway and Robert Nelson are just some of the defensive playmakers Arizona State will lose this offseason.

ASU's defense came on late in the year, led by this senior group, and helped the Sun Devils go to the Pac-12 title game.

Next year, not only will the Sun Devils have to replace all of this talent, they will also have to replace the leadership.

Sutton has been the poster boy of Sun Devil football the past two seasons and has become one of the biggest emotional leaders on the team. Darby and Irabor were the leaders of the secondary, and Young led the team with 112 total tackles last year.

This is one of those situations where really none of these guys can be replaced, so the Sun Devils will need next year's defense to play as a cohesive unit to make up for the loss of all this individual talent.

This offseason, Arizona State will need to figure out not only who will take over these starting roles, but who will become the leaders on the team.

While losing all this talent is tough, losing the leadership is even tougher.

 

Stats and information from cfbstats.com unless otherwise indicated.

Robby Baker is a B/R Featured Columnist. You can find his B/R archive here and follow him on Twitter @Robby__Baker.

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Auburn vs. FSU: Score, Grades and Analysis from 2014 BCS Championship

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:

Following the game, Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press noted an interesting fact:

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:

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:

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:

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. 

 

Player Grades

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:

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.

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:

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.

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Jameis Winston Throws Game-Winning TD with 13 Seconds Left to Win BCS Title

With 79 seconds remaining in the BCS National Championship Game, Auburn took a 31-27 lead over Florida State. The Seminoles needed a touchdown, and they got one.

Quarterback Jameis Winston led an 80-yard drive, which was capped off by a two-yard touchdown catch by Kelvin Benjamin. 

The 6'5" receiver was able to use his size to go up and get Winston's pass for the lead.

The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner was clutch on the final drive, via ESPN's SportsCenter:

Jameis Winston was 6-7 for 77 yards on the go-ahead drive. #Clutch

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 7, 2014

Winston's game-winning touchdown pass gave the Seminoles a 34-31 lead over the Tigers with only 13 seconds to play. Florida State outscored Auburn 21-10 in the fourth quarter.

Auburn was unable to pull off one more miracle. Florida State's defense held on the ensuing drive to give the Seminoles their first national championship since 1999.

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Cold Hard Fact for Monday, January 6, 2014

Fact: Florida State's 18-point comeback is the largest ever in a BCS title game. The previous record was 12 by Texas in 2006. Final score: Florida State 34, Auburn 31. 

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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