Florida State offensive linesman Cameron Erving (75) lifts up running back Devonta Freeman (8) after Freeman's touchdown in the fourth quarter of FSU's 45-7 ACC title win vs. Duke at Bank of America Stadium.
(Photo: Bob Donnan, USA TODAY Sports)
NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. - Because Florida State hasn't been here in more than a decade, because its brand had been so diminished by the time Bobby Bowden finally stepped down and because Alabama was supposed to be the program making history in the final year of the BCS era, one key fact has largely been ignored.
Florida State isn't just trying to win a national title on Monday night against Auburn. It's trying to stake its claim as the first undefeated and unchallenged national champion since the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers, widely considered to be the greatest college football team in history.
And the Seminoles aren't exactly shy about their desire to finish the 2013 season with one more dominant performance in a season that has yet to bring them a worthy adversary.
"Where in the rule book still does it say that we can't blow out everybody we play?" Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston said Friday. "In (last year's) championship game, Alabama blew out Notre Dame. We can do anything we want to do.
That's pretty bold stuff from the redshirt freshman, bringing back memories of the old 1990s Florida State swagger when it was the biggest, baddest program around. Of course, only once did Bowden's Seminoles actually back it up every single time they stepped on the field, starting and finishing the 1999 season at No. 1.
But even that team, which went 12-0 and beat Michael Vick's Virginia Tech Hokies in the Sugar Bowl, had some close calls along the way.
This group has yet to be tested in a fourth quarter, yet to trail in a second half, yet to feel the pressure of every snap or the need to dig deep once momentum turns.
In fact, if the Seminoles were to beat Auburn by double digits, they would complete arguably the most dominant season by any team in history, and certainly in the modern era.
The 1995 Cornhuskers, who beat Florida 62-24 for the national title, compiled an average victory margin of 38.7 points. The 2013 Seminoles have won their games by an average of 42.2 points and could very well end the season ranked first nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
"The B.C. game got us here because they jumped on us quick, and we had to fight back," receiver Kenny Shaw said. "Ever since then, we just practiced getting on teams early. Coach always says, practice like your opponent has no face. So if you came to our practice, you wouldn't know who we're playing. We could be playing a high school team, and we're still going to be upbeat and moving fast."
Despite that level of dominance, there has been a decided lack of buzz about the historic implications of an unchallenged season. That's probably due to two factors: The Seminoles did not face a great schedule in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and they simply haven't been in the national conversation long enough to merit that consideration.
It was only a year ago, after all, that Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was in Miami Gardens, Fla., talking about the Seminoles' Orange Bowl victory against Northern Illinois as a turning point for a program that had gone six years without winning an ACC championship and hadn't been in the national title mix at all since 2000.
Heck, even this preseason, Florida State was picked behind Clemson in the ACC's Atlantic division, and typically the all-time great teams are anointed as such much longer in advance.
But dominance is dominance, and the question now is whether it's the kind that will ultimately confirm the Seminoles' greatness or lead to their undoing on the biggest stage.
Perhaps we will find out the Seminoles would have been better served having at least one challenge before Monday night. Though they've rested starters nearly every fourth quarter, Auburn has blossomed against some of the SEC's best.
"It is what it is," Florida State center Bryan Stork said. "I'm not going to predict the game. I mean, we test ourselves every game. It doesn't matter who we play or what opponent we face. I think it kept us healthy. I'm not saying we're like 100 percent, but it definitely helped us get through the year, and we're very fortunate it worked out like this."
But from Auburn's side, they just want to see what might happen if they can get to the fourth quarter with a chance, force Florida State to exert itself and play with a different kind of pressure than it has felt in previous games. What might happen if Winston, who already brought up the idea of a blowout, suddenly has to make the kind of clutch plays Auburn has made all season?
"You play with a 17-point lead, you got somebody else's money," Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "Hopefully we'll play a balanced ballgame and eliminate that. But nobody else has been able to."