Dec. 31, 2013
Quarterback Cam Newton celebrates Auburn’s victory on its last trip to the BCS Championship Game (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. – Players at Auburn and Florida State are accustomed to playing on big stages in big games. But Monday night, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, they will play on the biggest stage in college football.
It’s the BCS National Championship Game, the goal for every player and every coach who started practice in heat of August. Other than nine Auburn players who helped the Tigers beat Oregon 22-19 in January 2011, no one who will play Monday has experienced the pressure that goes with playing for a national championship.
How players, particularly first-year quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jameis Winston, cope with that pressure will have a lot to do with who celebrates when it’s over.
Auburn wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig helped recruit the Florida State team, and was the driving force in getting Winston from Hueytown. Now he coaches Auburn wide receivers. He knows about playing under pressure, too. As Auburn’s quarterback, he took the Tigers within a single point of an SEC championship in 1997.
As the Tigers prepared to head West Tuesday morning, Craig was feeling good about what he’d seen on the practice field.
“It’s just understanding what it takes to play in a game of this magnitude,” Craig said. “The guys are relaxed. The attention to detail has been outstanding. The focus has been there and the intensity has been there. As a coach, that makes you feel more comfortable heading into the game.
“If you prepare yourself on and off the field, the game will be take care of itself.”
First-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, Craig says, has been the key to keeping Auburn players focused on the task at hand, big or small.
“I think Coach Malzahn has done a good job of getting the guys ready to play each and every week and kind of blocking out what happened the week before or, in this case, several weeks before in the SEC Championship,” Craig said. “We had the win over Georgia, then two weeks later against Alabama and a week later the SEC Championship Game. Each week the game got bigger because we made it bigger by winning. He just did a great job of getting the guys to focus on the task at hand.”
Craig, who says he has talked to Winston on the telephone twice in recent weeks. He says the Seminoles will be ready, too.
“They are pretty confident, as well they should be,” Craig said. “They’ve had a great season. The team is playing with a lot of confidence right now. It’s going to be a fun game. Our team has played better as the season has gone on and gotten better every game. I know this is a tough conference. To come out on top in this conference, you put yourself in position to play for a national championship. I’m excited about the game.”
No. 2 Auburn (12-1) and No. 1 Florida State (13-0) were to arrive Tuesday afternoon to begin preparations for the game that begins at 7:30 p.m. CST on Monday.
“I feel real comfortable about the game because of the focus of guys at practice,” Craig said. “You’re not thinking about the outcome right now. You are just thinking about your job and what you have to do to be ready. We know the formula to win. We feel like if we can practice that way every day. it will give us a good chance to win.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: