• Remain at home and beat Arkansas State (the program Malzahn left for Auburn) and Mississippi State.
• Travel to Baton Rouge for what many considered the first of multiple Auburn losses. Watch as Auburn trails 21-0 at halftime and loses by 14.
• Return home and upset Ole Miss. Beat Western Carolina 62-3, despite Marshall sitting out the game with a knee injury. And, oh, sneak into the Top 25.
• Give up 602 total yards, trail in the first, second, third and fourth quarters, watch Johnny Manziel throw for 454 yards (and Mike Evans catch 11 passes for 287 of those yards) and still defeat Texas A&M at College Station -- Auburn's first road win against a ranked opponent since 2011.
• Climb to No. 11 in the rankings and dispose of Florida Atlantic. Move to No. 8 and beat the University of Karma in Fayetteville. Move to No. 7 and win big in Knoxville.
• Stop at Miracle Junction (aka Jordan-Hare) for the Immaculate Deflection against Georgia and two weeks later, The Kick-Six against Alabama for what has to be the most remarkable win in Iron Bowl history, right?
• Drive to Atlanta as the No. 3 team in the country, but return from the SEC championship as the new No. 2 team, thanks to a 59-42 win against Missouri and then Michigan State's victory against then-No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten championship.
• Refuel as running back Tre Mason goes to New York as a Heisman finalist and Malzahn collects assorted coach of the year awards.
• Make your way west to California, where Auburn players and coaches bristle at the idea that their season was built on luck (ask them to name the defining game of their year and they say the comeback win on the road against Johnny Football).
• So here we are. Undefeated Florida State versus once-beaten Auburn. No. 1 versus How'd They Get Here?
Consider: The Seminoles' All-American kicker, Roberto Aguayo, has scored more points than all of FSU's opponents combined. Florida State hasn't trailed since the second quarter of its Sept. 28 game at Boston College. Winston is actually more lethal away from Doak Campbell Stadium (five of his seven 300-yard games were on the road). The Seminoles didn't require any football miracles this season.
Consider: The Tigers believe in the three M's (Malzahn, Marshall and Mason) and the two D's (defensive end Dee Ford and that other word, destiny -- 3-9 last year, 12-1 this year for one of the great turnarounds in FBS history). Auburn leads the nation in rushing. And if they can keep FSU close, the Tigers are 5-0 in games decided by seven points or fewer and 6-0 in games decided by eight points or fewer. In other words, they're not afraid of the moment.
Next year we'll have a four-team playoff. But that's next year.
For now, we get a national championship game between one team that began the season out of the top 10 (FSU) and another that began it out of the national consciousness (Auburn).
We get star power (Winston: "If we going to do it then, we do it big."). We get points (FSU averages 53.0 points, Auburn 40.2). We get the possibility of a semi-blowout (What if Auburn's defense can't hold up?), but also the possibility of an upset (What if FSU is in an actual tight game?).
Most of all, college football gets what it deserves: a fitting end to a hellacious journey.