College football may have finally reached the conclusion of the BCS, but perhaps it's reached the conclusion of SEC dominance as well. Auburn, facing a double-digit spread against undefeated and top-ranked Florida State, gave the Seminoles all it could in a 34-31 loss Monday night in Pasadena, but it wasn't enough. The SEC, which narrowly missed the chance for its eighth-consecutive national championship, couldn't continue its assault on the rest of college football.
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and the dominant Noles offense struggled for much of the night, particularly for a team that had not been tested all season. Remember, FSU hadn't faced a deficit since September, and was losing at halftime for the first time all year. But the other big story of the night was the second BCS loss for the SEC. Alabama was throttled by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl just last week. This is not to say that the conference is no longer great, because it still is, but for the first time in nearly a decade, there has been a changing of the guard.
Seminoles defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. summed up the moment pretty well: "I'm speechless. I'm just lost."
There was also the magnetic Winston, who turned 20 yesterday as only he could. "I was ready," he said after the game, according to ESPN. "I wanted to be in that situation. That's what great quarterbacks do. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, that's how great quarterbacks do."
It was fitting that Winston, who doesn't seem scared or bothered by anything or anyone, beat the mighty SEC, too. Had it been Bama or LSU, and not Auburn -- a team that very easily could have lost three or four times this year -- the whole "down with the SEC" would have been a more obvious theme. Don't forget, though, that the Tigers made their second trip to the title game in four years. They were a worthy opponent, representing America's best league. And see, that's the thing. The SEC is still the finest football conference in the nation, as long as iconic coaches like Nick Saban, Steve Spurrier and Les Miles are roaming the sidelines. But not since 2005, when Texas was the last non-SEC team to win a championship -- also at the Rose Bowl, ironically -- has the conference seemed even the slightest bit vulnerable.
2015 marks the first year of the Final Four format, which means the much-anticipated end to the 16-year BCS. That is a good thing for college football. Let me rephrase that: It is a great thing for college football. And the SEC showing a chink in its armor might just be as well.
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