Phillip Marshall: Auburn's rise not about destiny

Dec. 16, 2013

Florida State has been the nation's most dominant team, blowing through a 13-game schedule without ever having to wonder in the fourth quarter if this might be the day it ends.

Auburn has scored the winning touchdown in the final 25 seconds of games three times, famously on the final play against Alabama. It scored the eventual winning touchdown with 1:19 left at Texas A&M and had to turn the Aggies and Johnny Manziel away at the 18-yard line.

It wasn't until the eighth week of the season that Auburn was ranked in either major poll and not until the ninth week that it was ranked in both.

Three times this season - at LSU, at Texas A&M and against Alabama at home - Auburn was a double-digit underdog. That has to be a first for a team in the BCS Championship Game.

And then there is the fact that Auburn was 3-9 last season and was 0-8 in the SEC, losing those games by an average of 24 points. Already, Auburn has beaten teams to which it lost last season by scores of 28-10, 24-7, 41-20, 63-21, 38-0 and 49-0.

Even as Auburn climbed into the top 10, it needed for Baylor, Oregon, Stanford and Ohio State to lose down the stretch. They all did. Auburn folks probably didn't know just how happy they should have been when Baylor lost to Oklahoma State, Oregon lost to Arizona and Stanford lost to USC. They knew exactly how happy they should be after Ohio State lost to Michigan State.

So, yes, Auburn was an unlikely SEC champion and would be an unlikely opponent for Florida State in the BCS Natoinal Championship Game. But Auburn is not a team of destiny.

Auburn has not depended on some sort of divine intervention. Auburn has won games because it runs the ball better than any team in America, because of the nation's best offensive line, because quarterback Nick Marshall has dramatically improved with every start, because Tre Mason is the nation's best running back, because the defensive line goes a dozen deep. It has won because players have willingly subordinated individual goals to team goals. The list could go on.



Chris Davis' sprint into Auburn glory on the final play against Alabama was a terrific coaching decision and a great play by a great player. The tipped-pass touchdown against Georgia was certainly fortunate for Auburn, just as Aaron Murray getting a touchdown when it seemed he didn't cross the goal line was fortunate for Georgia.

The truth is that, in almost every championship season, somewhere along the way you win one just because the ball bounces your way or, in the BCS era, because the ball bounced the way of some team in some stadium far away.

Auburn has been much more severely tested in the SEC than has Florida State in the ACC, but that does not mean Florida State is not the nation's best team. I said early on that I thought the Seminoles were the most impressive team I'd seen.

Florida State and Auburn took very different paths to Pasadena, Calif., and the Rose Bowl. But when the last pass had been thrown and the last tackle made, they had clearly separated themselves from the pack.

By around 11 p.m. CST on Jan. 6, one will have emerged as national champion. Whichever team that is will have earned it and will be a deserving champion.

It will be about accomplishment, not fate and not destiny.


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter: