By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The last steps to the BCS championship game summed up their seasons.
For No. 1 Florida State, it was a breeze. For Auburn, it took the unexpected.
The Seminoles will play the Tigers for the BCS title on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif., after Auburn capped its remarkable turnaround season with a wild victory over Missouri in the Southeastern Conference title game, and then No. 2 Ohio State was upset by Michigan State on Saturday night.
“We going to the SHIP? (hash)Pasadena Bound,” Auburn running back Tre Mason posted on his Twitter account.
For Florida State, it was business as usual against No. 20 Duke. Jameis Winston passed for 330 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, and the Seminoles’ defense smothered the Blue Devils 45-7 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship in Charlotte.
Florida State (13-0) has won each of its games by at least 14 points.
“We’re not champs yet,” coach Jimbo Fisher yelled to his team after it crushed Duke.
“We’re trying to do something so much bigger than this,” Winston said.
Florida State will play for the national title for the first time since the 2000 season, and Winston will likely have to stop in New York to pick up the Heisman Trophy before heading to Southern California. The Seminoles will be looking for their first BCS title since 1999, and they’ll be trying to break the SEC’s seven-year national championship streak before the BCS is replaced by a four-team playoff next year.
“It’s not the SEC conference vs. the ACC conference,” Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. “It’s Florida State vs. Auburn.”
It looked as if the SEC did itself in last week, when Auburn upset Alabama. Florida State moved to No. 1 in the BCS standings and Ohio State to No. 2.
Auburn was No. 3, but the SEC was not about to just sit there and hope for an upset.
The Buckeyes were the target for the SEC supporters, who have insisted that their champion’s one-loss resume would be as good as that of an unbeaten Buckeyes team because Auburn — or Missouri — would have played a tougher schedule.
“I have nine words,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs was quoted as saying by SI.com on Saturday night after the Tigers’ 59-42 victory over Missouri. “Strength of schedule. Strength of schedule. Strength of schedule.”
Now, it doesn’t matter.
The Tigers have gone from worst in the SEC to first, and a victory away from their second national title in four seasons.
In 2010, it was Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator for coach Gene Chizik, directing an offense led by junior college transfer quarterback Cam Newton.
Now Malzahn is in his first season as head coach, and junior college transfer quarterback Nick Marshall is directing a seemingly unstoppable running game that gained 545 yards against No. 5 Missouri in Atlanta.
The Tigers (12-1) beat Georgia with the “Prayer at Jordan-Hare” and Alabama with the “Kick Six.” On Saturday, maybe that Auburn magic was passed on to Michigan State.
Ohio State (12-1) hadn’t lost in 24 games, not since Urban Meyer took over as coach. Despite all the SEC’s lobbying, a victory against the 10th-ranked Spartans in the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis would have likely been enough to hold off Auburn and send the Buckeyes to the BCS title game for the first time since 2007.
“You know it’s going to haunt all of us, I imagine, for a little while,” Meyer said.
Ohio State fell behind by 17, rallied back to take a 24-17 lead, then watched Michigan State score the last 17 points to win 34-24.
“Thanks for making the decision easy Michigan State,” Auburn linebacker Kris Frost posted on Twitter. “WAR DAMN EAGLE WE GOING TO CALI.”
Michigan State, too. The Spartans are going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1987 season. Ohio State will probably have to settle for the Orange Bowl.
The Big 12 and Pac-12 also settled BCS business Saturday.
No. 7 Stanford (11-2) is going to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year, the first time that’s happened since 1970-71, after winning the Pac-12 championship game at No. 11 Arizona State, 38-14.
No. 9 Baylor (11-1) won the Big 12 and locked up an automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl, with some help from Oklahoma. Before the Bears beat Texas 30-10, the 18th-ranked Sooners upset No. 6 Oklahoma State 33-24 in Stillwater to keep the Cowboys from winning the Big 12.
Championship game: Florida State vs. Auburn.
Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Stanford.
Orange Bowl: Ohio State vs. Clemson.
Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Oklahoma.
Fiesta Bowl: Baylor vs. UCF.
AP Sports Writers John Zenor in Montgomery, Ala., and AP Sports Writer Mike Marot in Indianapolis contributed.