The Southeastern Conference has won a record seven consecutive national championships in college football, and the door has been opened for an eighth.
Auburn will play Florida State in the BCS title game, which will be held Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. The Tigers trailed Florida State and Ohio State in the BCS rankings entering this past weekend but moved into the title pairing when Ohio State fell to Michigan State in Saturday night's Big Ten championship.
Several hours before the Big Ten matchup, Auburn raced past Missouri 59-42 at the SEC title game in Atlanta to improve to 12-1 this season. The Tigers went 3-9 last year, their worst record in 60 seasons.
"It's been an amazing year," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday night on ESPN. "Our team has found a way to get better each game, and we've found a way to win games, especially close games when the pressure's on."
Auburn has become the first team in SEC history to win the league outright after going winless in conference play the year before. The Tigers are only the fourth team in NCAA history to turn that trick in any conference and the first since 1971, when Kent State went from worst-to-first in the Mid-American Conference.
A midseason upset of Texas A&M got Auburn on the national radar, and the Tigers closed their regular season with wins over Georgia and Alabama that contained miraculous endings. Their only loss came to LSU.
"We used last season as motivation, thinking about ... being one of the worst teams in college football to now being one of the best," Auburn junior tailback Tre Mason said Saturday after shredding Missouri for 304 rushing yards. "We've used that as motivation every day in practice and in games."
The other BCS bowl matchups are Alabama vs. Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, Clemson vs. Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, Michigan State vs. Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and Baylor vs. Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.
Auburn, which won the 2010 BCS championship over Oregon, is expected to be a touchdown underdog against Florida State, which improved to 13-0 with a 45-7 rout of Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. The Seminoles have won every game this season by at least 14 points, with their most notable triumph being a 51-14 rout at Clemson, and they haven't trailed in 511 minutes of game action.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher is a former Auburn assistant who expects a tough game next month.
"We know a lot of their guys from recruiting," Fisher said Sunday night on ESPN. "When you're a championship team and get to this level, your offense, defense and special teams are going to be good. They're just extremely well-coached and have great players."
Florida started the SEC's recent run of national titles in 2006, with LSU winning in '07 and Florida adding another in '08. Alabama won national titles in 2009 and each of the past two seasons. The Crimson Tide entered this year looking to become the first program in college football history to win three straight national titles.
Auburn derailed Alabama's hopes with a 34-28 upset, but the Iron Bowl winner has a chance to win a fifth consecutive national crown.
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.