Florida State ends SEC's vaunted BCS streak with championship win
PASADENA, Calif. -- The familiar chant had evolved into the closing soundtrack of the BCS title game. It would emerge most years like the SEC's rendition of Mariano Rivera's "Enter Sandman" routine -- a haunting fourth-quarter harbinger of inevitable victory.
As the SEC rattled off seven consecutive national titles, a tradition took hold. Fans of the conference's representative in a given year would serenade their overmatched foe with chants of "S-E-C! S-E-C!"
As the streak grew from Florida in 2006 to Alabama last January, the chant became an indelible symbol of the league's power and solidarity. But following Florida State's dizzying 34-31 comeback victory over Auburn on Monday night, a new era in college football was ushered in with silence.
"We didn't hear it tonight," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in the Rose Bowl concourse minutes after the game.
That's about as close as conference commissioners will come to trash talk. SEC commissioner Mike Slive bragged to SI.com a few weeks ago that the streak was college football's version of "Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak," a confluence of dominance, serendipity and longevity than could be marveled at for generations.
The streak turned Paul Finebaum from a Southern talk show host into a national voice. It made super-agent Jimmy Sexton millions in coaching salaries and prompted ESPN to launch an SEC Network. The streak introduced notions of SEC Speed, Big Boy Football and a Big Brother perception. (Who can forget former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema saying, "We at the Big Ten don't want to be like the SEC -- in any way, shape or form." That was, of course, a few months before he accepted a job at Arkansas.)
The streak brought forth characters as polarizing as they were unforgettable. There was Tim Tebow and his speech, Nick Saban and his scowl, Les Miles and his appetite for grass.
"The BCS era will be a point of enduring pride for our entire conference," Slive wrote in a text message late on Monday.
Soon after the streak ended, Florida State delivered some old-school trash talk. When quarterback Jameis Winston was asked if Seminoles could be poised for a run of dominance, he nodded his head emphatically. "Definitely," he insisted. "We bringing that swag back."
There wasn't a lot of disagreement in the Florida State locker room. The 'Noles certainly weren't focused on the streak, but they were happy to end it.
"It feels good, man," Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said of the SEC streak ending. "Everyone just felt like those guys were gods. Like they couldn't be touched."
While Seminoles wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin caught the game-winning touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining, the paradigm-shifting play came from freshman Kermit Whitfield, who flashed Olympic track speed on his 100-yard kick-return score that gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 left. Whitfield doesn't believe in the superiority of SEC Speed.
"SEC ain't no speed," Whitfield said at his locker. "The fastest team in America was Florida State. The evidence proved it tonight."
The Rose Bowl will forever be intertwined with the lore of the streak. The last non-SEC team to win a national title did so in Pasadena, when Texas quarterback Vince Young skipped into the end zone on fourth-and-5 to end USC's dynasty after the 2005 campaign. The streak was launched here in '06, when UCLA stunned USC 13-9 to allow Florida to sneak into that year's title game against Ohio State. (Who can forget the video of Florida fans watching the upset in the restroom at the Georgia Dome?) The streak continued here in '09, when Alabama beat Texas after Marcell Dareus knocked star Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy out of the game in the first quarter. And the streak died here on Monday night, after Auburn raced to a 21-3 lead before allowing the Seminoles to come back.
"We ended it" Winston said. "It's irrelevant now."
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs summed up the streak's significance outside the Tigers' locker room. "I hate it first of all for these players, Gus [Malzahn] and Auburn, and I hate it for the SEC as well," Jacobs said. "We're a strong league."
Don't think ACC administrators didn't realize the significance of this victory. Swofford's league entered the night with an all-time record of 4-14 in BCS games. How bad has the ACC been? That dismal mark included a two-game winning streak heading into Monday.
But in suite F17 at the Rose Bowl, Swofford, his family and staff Tomahawk-chopped their way through the giddy final minutes. It's safe to say a 5-14 BCS bowl record never felt so good. While the ACC reemerged as a national player this year -- something solidified by Clemson's 40-35 Orange Bowl win over Ohio State last Friday -- fans are still likely a ways away from an "A-C-C" chant breaking out at anything other than basketball game.
Still, Florida State will enter next season as the favorite, as Winston returns and the depth chart is stacked to the point where NFL talent will replace any early entry departures.
"All the classes coming in have great players," Seminoles tight end Nick O'Leary said, "and they're going to keep coming after this."
As for the streak?
"It ends a remarkable streak by the SEC," Swofford said. "If someone was going to end it, I sure am glad it was us."