January 7, 2014

One step short

PASADENA, Calif. | The situation unfolded Monday night the way it has so many times before with these Auburn Tigers.

Strong running. A fourth-quarter comeback fueled by an explosive play. A final, do-or-die moment that defines the game.

Yet this one ended differently. Florida State made the big play, a 49-yard pass from Jameis Winston to Rashad Greene, that flipped the field during the final minute and changed the game's complexion. That's typically a job reserved for a Tiger, but this was Florida State's night.

Even the strongest teams falter on occasion.

"We played the game we usually do, fought hard and hit them hard," safety Jermaine Whitehead said. "We just didn't come out on top. There will be some heads hanging for a few days, but there's a lot to be proud of. We made it to the championship. Now we just have to get back."

That's what Gus Malzahn has brought to a program who sorely needed him one year ago. Auburn no longer fights for respect; it earns it. Auburn no longer looks back on its past as a reminder of what can happen; it has new memories of greatness.

This Auburn team was great.

Winless in the Southeastern Conference a year ago, the Tigers won the 2013 conference title. That's a remarkable achievement. That's the kind of achievement reserved for special coaches and special players in special circumstances.

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