Throwback Thursday: The End of the BCS and a Season of Regret

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Just a few years removed from the Mountain West Conference initiating an antitrust lawsuit against the Bowl Championship Series, and in the months following the most dubious BCS Championship Game in the system’s history, college football’s decision-makers adopted some form of playoff. The formal announcement came in the summer of 2012, with two seasons remaining in the contractual obligation to the BCS.

The Open Man’s Throwback series over recent weeks focused on noteworthy elements of each half-decade milestone in my time following college football. Coincidentally — maybe not — each of those seasons marked a watershed moment in the road to a college football playoff. 1993 dealt the Bowl Coalition a death-blow. 1998, the beginning of the BCS, set precedent for the treatment of outsiders. 2003 resulted in the one thing the entire system was meant to prevent: a split title. And 2008 landed a decisive, finishing jab, causing the BCS to bleed out over the next half-decade.

College football’s 2013 season marked an end of an era — and not just the BCS, though its long-anticipated demise garnered top billing.

The system itself may have been reviled by a majority of college football fans — and even reporters like Dan Wetzel, who co-authored a book literally entitled Death to the BCS — but it at least had the decency to end with a flourish.

I put a beacon out to the Twitterati (and if you’re not, follow me @kensing!) on favorite games of all-time. Interestingly, not a single respondent nominated the 2013 season’s BCS Championship Game between Auburn and Florida State. Now, I contend it’s not the best BCS title game, nor is it even the best BCS title game played at the Rose Bowl.  However, Florida State’s first national championship claimed post-Bobby Bowden featured enough theater that it’s a perfectly acceptable nomination for best game if you’re either a Seminoles fan, or especially zealous SEC hater.

After being shut out of the 2005 BCS Championship Game in favor of an Oklahoma team that would have had the worst performance ever in Orange Bowl history were it not for Ashlee Simpson, angry SEC fans, pundits and even the conference’s coaches and administrators became more aggressive in touting the league’s worthiness for championships.

And, when Florida earned a shot at Ohio State in 2007, because scheduling a rematch for the national title when it wasn’t absolutely necessary would set a bad precedent *clears throat*, the SEC began a remarkable run of seven consecutive national championships.

2004’s slight — even if Auburn would have been housed by either USC -OR- Urban Meyer-coached Utah that season, and I will not hear otherwise — stirred awake a sleeping giant. The SEC ran roughshod over college football, with Urban heading to Florida and claiming two BCS championships. Cam Newton Auburn snagged its first since 1957 between a trio of Nick Saban-led Alabama championships, and despite LSU’s best efforts to end The Streak prematurely in extraordinarily Les Miles-fashion, the Bayou Bengals claimed the second of seven.

Auburn aimed to make it an even eight heading into the Playoff era, reaching Pasadena through a series of the jaw-dropping breaks. The Tigers’ final two wins of the 2013 regular season rank among the most thrilling in my time following college football. One, which we’ll get into more a little later, received numerous nominations for my Best Game Ever inquiry. That finish — and you know what it is — has overshadowed the week preceding it, though. 

I posit Auburn’s touchdown to beat Georgia one week prior to the 2013 Iron Bowl was every bit as memorable as the following Saturday. 

Consecutive nail-biting wins to close the regular season and a blowout of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game didn’t guarantee Auburn a spot to extend the streak, however. The Tigers required one more break, which came in the form of Urban Meyer’s heartbreak at the Big Ten Championship. 

Ohio State’s perfect season ended in a shocking fourth quarter wherein Michigan State outscored the Buckeyes, 14-0. Sparty’s win denied Ohio State the spot in the Rose Bowl opposite Florida State, and spawned one of the most memorable memes in College Football Twitter’s brief existence as depicted above. 

Urban’s forlorn noshing on some especially heinous pizza functions as a fitting avatar for the 2013 college football season. In a word, the campaign can be summarized with regret. 

Auburn’s miraculous touchdown to survive a scare from Georgia in the regular season’s penultimate week left a regretful Mark Richt said the following, per the Associated Press

[A]t the end of the game, you’ve got to know to knock a ball down in that situation,” Richt said. “You know, we had a timeout prior to that. I’m in there, defensive coordinator [Todd] Grantham’s in there, we’re all in there. I could have easily said, ‘Hey guys, if the ball is launched deep, bat it down.’ I could have said that. That’s a good reminder for a young bunch of guys back there.

“I had my chance to coach that up and didn’t do it.”

As alluded to above, Auburn’s win over Georgia soon after fell into the background behind The Kick-Six. Anyone even casually acquainted with college football for the past half-decade knows The Kick Six. 

Nick Saban’s accumulated another two national championships since the end of the BCS era. And yet, even as recently as last year, the most decorated head coach of modern times expressed his regret over the final play at Auburn in 2013. 

“I’ll never get over it because you never do with those kind of losses,” Saban told ESPN.com’s Chris Low. “I never got over the returned field goal at Auburn.”

In keeping with the theme of these recent Throwbacks, indulge me for a moment as I interject my own experiences for a moment. If you don’t like it, well…write your own damn column.

Anyway, 2013: That was a bittersweet season for me. CBS sold NCAA.com to Turner Sports as part of the NCAA Tournament rights partnership, a move that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2011. My previous home for FCS coverage disappeared — I was still a CBS employee at the time — and other reliable freelance homes like ESPN.com’s Page 2 and AOL began to dry up shortly thereafter.

I toiled during the 2011 and 2012 seasons in the under-paid blog mines with limited resources, but dammit if I didn’t produce some quality #content. Then, two weeks prior to the 2013, a life preserver came in the form of what’s still to date my most financially lucrative college football gig: I was recruited to cover the Pac-12 for Bleacher Report as its Lead Writer.

Now, I make no bones about the fact that, overall, my work during the 2013 season sucked. That isn’t to suggest everything I produced wasn’t up to par — I still like this feature on L.A. recruiting shaping the UCLA-USC rivalry — but the majority just wasn’t good. I tried writing in a voice that wasn’t mine, taking on a tone that I assumed was expected of me. I also endured the throes of an existential crisis, having just turned 30 and learning early that season my wife was pregnant with our first child. 

Living in constant, abject terror probably didn’t help my work. I blame Eraserhead and Bright Lights Big City. 

Our personal experiences can profoundly shape our perception of the larger world around us. To that end, I view the 2013 season through a lens of regret — bringing us full circle to the final BCS Championship Game. 

The SEC quest for eight started perfectly. All those years of chest-thumping proved valid once again, with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston — a regrettable recipient, all things considered — unable to move the previously unstoppable Seminoles offense on the Auburn defense. Meanwhile, Nick Marshall’s 4-yard touchdown run to extend a second-quarter Tigers’ lead to 21-3 demonstrated the superiority of SEC line play. 

But Auburn arrived in California riding the wave of good fortune, and a karmic downturn was inevitable. Florida State’s defense buckled down, and special teams came through in a big way with one of the most important kickoff returns in the game’s history. 

Kermit Whitfield’s 100-yard run-back gave Florida State its first lead with fewer than five minutes remaining. Whitfield also sparked the most torrid 4:31 of the BCS. 

The exchange of haymakers over those final possessions, culminating in Winston capping an 80-yard drive with a toss to Kelvin Benjamin for a leaping touchdown grab. 

Heisman finalist Tre Mason piled up 195 yards rushing, took a pass 42 yards for a score and also reached pay dirt on a carry. His late score gave the Tigers a lead that the ensuing Florida State drive negated, though that’s certainly no fault of the running back. 

Even so, Auburn’s remarkable 2013 campaign, the era of the BCS, and The Streak came to an end when Mason took the final kickoff, misjudged Florida State’s coverage, and cut back into a tackle on a potential, game-winning return. Mason’s postgame message to Auburn fans? One of regret. 

“Right now I just feel like I let the whole Auburn family down by not finishing,” Mason said, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com

Hell, even in the aftermath of one of the most thrilling comebacks in recent college football history, regret lingers. I think to a 2014 episode of the comedian Sklar brothers’ old podcast, “Sklarbro Country,” in which the duo interview Bert Kreischer.

Huge sports fans, the Sklars asked the real-life Van Wilder and Florida State alum Kreischer about his experience following his alma mater in one of the best BCS Championship Games ever. Kreischer reveals he was in Rose Bowl Stadium — at least, up until Nick Marshall’s touchdown to give the Tigers a 21-3 lead. That’s when Kreischer left, presumably along with other Seminole supporters. 

Now, considering what unfolded in Game 6 of the NBA Finals just seven months prior, I have no sympathy for a fan who leaves a game early and misses an epic comeback. Nevertheless, I understand the sentiment of regret one such fan might feel. 

It’s an anecdote that ties a bow around my memories of the 2013 season. In retrospect, I even regret the dissolution of the BCS … well, at least to a certain extent