Auburn's improbable run continues

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Auburn fans rolled Toomer's Corner on Saturday night, immediately after the No. 3 Tigers beat No. 5 Missouri 59-42 in the SEC championship game to end the most unforgettable month in their storied history -- and perhaps the most dramatic in college football history.

Hopefully, Auburn fans carried double rolls of tissue to their beloved gathering spot at the corner of College Street and Magnolia Avenue.

The Tigers would have to roll Toomer's Corner again.

Because just before midnight ET on Saturday night, No. 10 Michigan State stunned No. 2 Ohio State 34-24 in the Big Ten championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, all but ensuring that Auburn will play No. 1 Florida State in the Jan. 6 Vizio BCS National Championship at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, Calif.

Florida State, which blasted No. 20 Duke 45-7 in the ACC championship game to finish 13-0, is expected to be No. 1 in the final BCS standings released on Sunday night, followed by Auburn. The top two teams in the final BCS standings will play in the last BCS National Championship. A four-team playoff replaces the much-maligned national championship system next season.

But like in many of the previous 15 seasons of the BCS, weeks of angst and controversy over who were the two most deserving teams to play for a national championship became moot. On the last Saturday of the regular season, everything fell into place again and the BCS delivered us a national title game almost everyone can agree about, just as BCS chairman Bill Hancock promised it would.

A month ago, few would have predicted Auburn would be one of the last two teams standing. But the Tigers beat Georgia 43-38 on a 73-yard Hail Mary pass with 25 seconds left (off the hands of a UGA defensive back, no less) on Nov. 16, and then two weeks later defeated archrival and two-time defending BCS national champion Alabama 34-28 on the mother of all miracles -- a 109-yard return of a missed field goal on the final play of the Iron Bowl.

The Tigers didn't need a dramatic finish to dispose of Missouri, after breaking open a tight game with two touchdowns in less than three minutes late in the third quarter. Tailback Tre Mason ran for an SEC title game record 304 yards with four touchdowns on 46 carries, and Missouri's defense had no answer for coach Gus Malzahn's fast-paced spread offense.

After producing two of the most improbable endings in history, the Tigers might have received their most fortunate break on Saturday night.

Auburn started Saturday ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings, firmly behind the Seminoles and Buckeyes, the last two unbeaten FBS teams. Even after piling up 677 yards of offense -- 545 rushing -- in its rout of Missouri in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, Auburn wasn't assured of playing in the final BCS National Championship until the Spartans ended the Buckeyes' 24-game winning streak and handed Urban Meyer his first loss as OSU's coach.

The Buckeyes rallied from a 17-0 hole against the Spartans, taking a 24-17 lead on quarterback Braxton Miller's 6-yard touchdown run with 5:36 to go in the third quarter. After Michigan State went ahead 27-24 on Connor Cook's 9-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Price with 11:41 left, the Buckeyes blocked a punt and drove into MSU territory. But the Spartans stuffed Miller on fourth-and-2 at the MSU 39, and Spartans tailback Jeremy Langford later scored on a 26-yard run to end OSU's long winning streak.

"You know it's going to haunt all of us, I imagine, for a little while," Meyer said. "But that's part of the game."

The Spartans earned their first trip since 1987 to the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, where they'll play Pac-12 champion Stanford on New Year's Day. The No. 7 Cardinal blasted No. 11 Arizona State 38-14 in the Pac-12 championship game on Saturday to earn their second consecutive trip to Pasadena.

One other BCS bowl game also appears to be set. Thanks to No. 17 Oklahoma's 33-24 upset of No. 6 Oklahoma State in the Bedlam series game on Saturday, No. 9 Baylor won its first Big 12 championship. The Bears defeated No. 25 Texas 30-10 in the final game at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas, and will probably play American Athletic Conference champion Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.

The matchups for the Jan. 2 Allstate Sugar Bowl and Jan. 3 Discover Orange Bowl won't be revealed until Sunday night. The participating teams figure to be some sort of combination of No. 4 Alabama, No. 13 Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma. No. 12 Oregon might also be in the mix for a BCS at-large berth.

And now Auburn can keep dreaming, as unimaginable as it might have once been. It seems that if the Tigers needed world peace -- or infamous Crimson Tide fan Harvey Updyke to wave orange-and-blue pompoms and scream "War Damn Eagle" -- it was bound to happen in their unlikely charge to the BCS title game. It has been that kind of season for a team that finished 3-9 and didn't win an SEC game last year.

Now, the Tigers are one victory away from winning their second BCS national championship in four years -- and the SEC's eighth in a row. After 15 weeks of the regular season, it no longer matters if Auburn played a tougher schedule, or if Ohio State didn't play anyone of real consequence.

"We're the SEC champ," Malzahn said, after the Tigers blasted Missouri and before OSU lost to Michigan State. "I believe we won [the BCS national championship] the last seven years. We play the toughest schedule of any of the teams there, and we're playing our best football. A lot of teams aren't getting better each week. This team is."

So is Florida State, which beat its opponents by an average margin of 43.7 points this season. The Seminoles haven't trailed since the second quarter of a 48-34 victory at Boston College on Sept. 28. They'll attempt to win their first national championship since 1999.

Against Duke, FSU led 17-0 at the half and 38-0 after three quarters. Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, who figures to become the second straight freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in New York next weekend, passed for 330 yards and accounted for four touchdowns.

"This whole week has been very high emotion," said Winston, who was not charged after a sexual-assault investigation, a state attorney announced Thursday. "We wanted to win this championship so bad. We were looking forward to having an undefeated season."

Now, the Seminoles will have 30 days to prepare for Auburn. Florida State, which leads FBS teams in scoring defense (11 points per game) and allowed seven points or fewer in seven of 13 contests, will try to slow down the "Gus Bus" at the Rose Bowl. The Tigers have averaged 47.8 points in their past four games and ran for 1,608 yards in those games -- more than 27 FBS teams totaled in their entire 12-game seasons.

"This is one of the best defenses I've ever been around," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

Fisher will learn if it's a national championship-caliber defense in about a month.

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