PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- After a regular season filled with blowout victories and easy fourth quarters, Jameis Winston and Florida State showed they could close like champions, too.
No. 2 Auburn wobbled the top-ranked Seminoles by jumping out to an 18-point lead in the first half, and then put Florida State on the brink of defeat for the first time this season.
Winston responded with the drive of his life and a game-winning touchdown pass with 13 seconds left that topped everything else he has done in one of the most sensational debut seasons a college quarterback has ever had.
The Heisman Trophy winner led the Seminoles 80 yards in the final 79 seconds, flicking a 2-yard TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin to give No. 1 Florida State a 34-31 victory against Auburn in the last BCS championship game Monday night.
"The last drive, that's a great way to cap off our season," Winston said. "That's the way we wanted to cap off our season."
The Bowl Championship Series went out with a bang, too, with one of the best title games in its 16-year history, right there with Texas 41, USC 38 at the Rose Bowl in 2006. That night it was Vince Young leading the Longhorns and capping a comeback by scooting into the end zone with 19 seconds left.
Now Winston is the Prince of Pasadena.
Next season the BCS will be replaced by a four-team playoff. Winston and the Seminoles should be contenders again after snapping the Southeastern Conference's seven-year national title streak.
"The SEC is great football, I coached in that league for 13 years, I respect every bit of it," coach Jimbo Fisher said, "but there's some other folks in this country that can play some football, too."
Florida State, which played in the first BCS championship games but had not been back since, was voted a unanimous No. 1 in the final AP Top 25. Auburn finished second.
Winston struggled much of the night but was near perfect when the Seminoles (14-0) needed it most, going 6 for 7 for 77 yards on the last drive.
"It was the best football game he's played all year," Fisher said of Winston, "and I'll tell you why, because for three quarters he was up and down and he fought."
Winston was 20 for 35 for 237 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdown passes on his 20th birthday. He zipped the Seminoles down the field on the final drive, with a 49-yard catch and run from Rashad Greene.
"I was ready," Winston said. "I wanted to be in that situation because that's what great quarterbacks do. That's what the Tom Bradys, Peyton Mannings, Drew Brees, that's what they do."
Florida State also got help from Auburn. A pass interference penalty in the end zone on Chris Davis on third-and-8 from the 10 gave Florida State a first down at the 2.
"Thought it was great defense. That's all I can say," Davis said, adding, the officials "should have just let us play."
On the next play Winston threw high to the 6-foot-5 Benjamin for the touchdown.
"Once the ball is in the air on that post route, I've got to go get it, and I did," Benjamin said. "Simple as that."
There was no miracle finish this time for the turnaround Tigers, who went from 3-9 to SEC champions in their first season under coach Gus Malzahn. They tossed the ball around on one final play, but it ended with Florida State jumping on a fumble, and the Seminoles sprinting onto the field under a storm of garnet and gold confetti.
Florida State scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, and the teams combined for 24 in a breathtaking last 4:42.
"It felt storybook again," Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "It really felt like we were going to bring it out again. We're just on the other end of the stick. It's usually us going out on the field and celebrating. It's been a long time since we had an `L' in this locker room."
Auburn won nine straight to get here after starting the season unranked.
Tre Mason gave Auburn (12-2) a 31-27 lead with a 37-yard touchdown run with 1:19 left after Kermit Whitfield had put Florida State in the lead for the first time since the first quarter with a 100-yard kickoff return to make it 27-24 with 4:31 left.
Mason ran for 195 yards and scored two touchdowns, and Nick Marshall threw two touchdown passes for the Tigers.
"I told them in the locker room, we put together the biggest turnaround in the history of college football. We were on the brink of making it one of those magical seasons," Malzahn said.
Florida State hadn't been challenged like this all season, winning by an average of 42 points.
Florida State and Winston's biggest problem this season came off the field. Winston was investigated for a year-old sexual assault complaint in November, but after three weeks the Florida state attorney's office determined it did not have enough evidence to charge him.
The Seminoles were down 21-3 in the first half to Auburn. They hadn't trailed in a game since Sept. 28.
"I knew we were fighters," nose tackle Timmy Jernigan said.
And now Florida State is national champion for the first time since 1999, the first team to win the BCS title game after being down at halftime. The state of Alabama's national championship run is over at four, stopped by a quarterback from Bessemer who never rooted for the Tigers or Tide.
"Only thing is we're victorious and glad to say Florida State is the national champion again, and I guarantee you we're bringing that swag back," Winston said. "You'd better believe it."
Follow Ralph D. Russo at WWW.TWITTER.COM/RALPHDRUSSOAP
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- In the final year of the BCS, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops won the one major bowl that had eluded him, and proved a point about parity in the process.
After taking the past month to cultivate a young quarterback who was still coming into his own, Stoops brought a confident and motivated Sooners squad to the Sugar Bowl, where they stunned 16-point favorite Alabama 45-31 on Thursday night.
Freshman Trevor Knight completed a Sugar Bowl-record 32 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns for 11th-ranked Oklahoma, outshining Heisman Trophy runner-up AJ McCarron, who saw his otherwise charmed college career come to a sour end with No. 3 Alabama.
The convincing victory also gave Stoops an I-told-you-so moment, backing up his comment last offseason that the gap between the Southeastern Conference and other top leagues like the Big 12 is not as great as some "propaganda" makes it out to be.
"I have the utmost respect for Alabama, and I think this shows that obviously we can play with anybody," Stoops said. "So, enough of that. And I just watched them go through their entire conference and play pretty well. I'm not pointing any fingers. But I think sometimes the comparisons aren't necessarily very true."
Stoops became the first coach to win all four BCS bowl games, having already won the Orange, Rose and Fiesta bowls.
Before the game Stoops had provided an element of mystery by declining to say whether he would start Knight or junior Blake Bell, or how much he'd play either one.
Alabama led 7-0 - having scored on the opening drive - before Stoops made his decision know by sending Knight out with the offense for Oklahoma's first series. Knight had played behind Bell much of the season. His completion percentage entering the game was 52.2. He had completed 47 passes all season - before a breakout performance in which two of his TDs went for more than 40 yards.
"It's huge for our program, to get a win like this after no one gave us a chance all year," Knight said. "We've got to ride this into next year. We can't settle with this. ... We want the big one."
Oklahoma (11-2) needed him to play that well in the 80th Sugar Bowl, the first in which quarterbacks for both teams threw for more than 300 yards.
His Big 12 team vanquished an Alabama (11-2) squad that had been ranked No. 1 much of the past three seasons, winning the previous two national titles before its shot at a third straight was derailed by Auburn on the last play of the Iron Bowl in late November.
Coach Nick Saban didn't find his team, favored by 16 points, was too deflated from its loss to Auburn to play up to its standard.
"I actually thought that the players responded in practice pretty well for this game," Saban said. "We put over 500 yards of offense up. Somebody had to do something right. I don't think that we played as well on defense as we're capable of or should have."
McCarron passed for 387 yards and two TDs, but his two interceptions set up Oklahoma TDs. He was also sacked seven times, fumbling on the last one, and Geneo Grissom returned his second recovery of the game 8 yards for a score, sealing Alabama's first two-game skid since its Sugar Bowl loss to Utah in January 2009.
"Put it all on me. I had two turnovers, (Oklahoma) ended up scoring 14 points, and we lost by 14," said McCarron, who won 36 of his first 38 games before losing his last two. "I wish it wouldn't have happened, but I'll definitely take the loss and definitely take the blame, because a lot of it is probably my fault."
Freshman Derrick Henry's 43-yard run in the third quarter pulled Alabama to 31-24. But Alabama was unable to add another score before Knight found his groove again.
He lofted a perfect pass to Lacoltan Bester for a 34-yard gain to the Alabama 9. Shortly after, Knight rolled left all the way to the sideline before rifling a touchdown strike to Sterling Shepard, making it a two-touchdown game again with 10:44 left.
Henry pulled Alabama within a score once more when he turned his first career reception into a tackle-shedding 61-yard TD with 6:22 to go, but Oklahoma didn't fold.
Early on, Alabama looked sharp, leading 7-0 when T.J. Yeldon scored from the 1.
Soon after, Landon Collins intercepted Knight's tipped pass, but Oklahoma got it right back on Gabe Lynn's interception on the next play. One play later, Knight found Bester for a 45-yard score.
Jalen Saunders first TD reception from 8 yards out gave Oklahoma a 14-10 lead, but McCarron's 67-yard TD to DeAndrew White gave the Tide the lead right back.
With the game tied at 17, Alabama appeared on the verge of another go-ahead score when Yeldon fumbled on the 8. Instead, Oklahoma took the lead for good when Knight hit Saunders in stride down the right sideline for a 43-yard score.
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- A Texas-sized cloud of uncertainty looms over college football's biggest game of the season.
As No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn prepare in southern California to meet Monday in the last BCS championship game, the University of Texas is still looking for a new football coach. And until the Longhorns make a hire, just about every successful coach can be considered a candidate - including Florida State's Jimbo Fisher and Auburn's Gus Malzahn.
"I've been amazed about how quiet this thing has been," ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said earlier this week. "Because of that it leads me to speculate and believe that somebody still involved in coaching, whether it's the NFL or college, must be one of their primary candidates."
"I think the longer this goes on I think it's very, very clear that it's somebody who's still coaching. Who that might be, I have no idea."
A few small leaks have sprung in the last couple of days, though it's impossible to know how seriously to take them.
Published reports out of Texas stated the Longhorns are interested in Fisher, Baylor's Art Briles, Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Louisville's Charlie Strong. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio has also been mentioned as a coach Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson is looking at. Patterson said he wants the search complete by Jan. 15.
"Texas, they're going to be calling on everybody they possibly can because they're going to try to get the best coach they possibly can," Florida State AD Stan Wilcox said. "Meanwhile, everybody's trying to keep their coaches because they all feel that the people that Texas is looking at are the best coaches out there."
Florida State hopes it has put all the speculation about Fisher's future to rest. The fourth-year head coach and Nick Saban disciple finally got around on Tuesday to signing a new contract that runs through the 2018 season and pays him about $4.1 million annually.
Auburn agreed to a new deal with Malzahn the day before the Southeastern Conference championship game last month. The six-year contract is worth $3.85 million annually to the first-year Tigers coach.
Briles got a 10-year deal in November from Baylor. Michigan State is working on a new deal for Dantonio that could double his $1.9 million salary.
And, of course, Saban, the object of so many Longhorns desires, agreed to a new multiyear deal with Alabama that will pay him $7 million a year after months of stories and speculation connecting the four-time national championship winning coach and Texas.
But what do those extensions really mean? Are Fisher, Malzahn, Briles and even Saban truly off the market?
"A contract is written to be broken," said Kansas State athletic director John Currie, who doesn't have to worry about his football coach, 74-year-old Bill Snyder, going anywhere.
The trend in college sports, especially college football, is for schools to quickly lock up successful coaches and hand out raises.
Mississippi extended Hugh Freeze's contract after a 7-5 regular season and bumped his pay to $3 million per year. Washington State's Mike Leach got the Cougars back into a bowl by winning six games in his second season at Pullman. He got a two-year extension for his work.
Texas A&M made the boldest move of all this season with coach Kevin Sumlin, who was drawing interest from NFL teams last year. The Aggies made Sumlin (20-6 in two seasons in College Station) a $5 million-per-year coach with a new six-year deal.
Arizona AD Greg Byrne said the contract numbers that make headlines can often be deceiving.
"When you get down into the details the interesting numbers are what's guaranteed, both sides. If the coach were to leave, what's the buyout? And then if you were to dismiss your coach without cause what percent of the contract is guaranteed?" Byrne said. "Sometime you'll see someone with an eight-year contract, but half the contract is guaranteed, so in some ways it's a four-year contract instead."
Currie said the NFL has played a major role in changing the salary structure for college coaches, but ultimately a school needs to decide what works best for it.
"Everybody else is doing it is not a reason to make a bad decision for your institution," he said.
But market pressures can be strong and big openings - such as the one at Texas - can drive up that market.
"I'm sure there's been a time where a school's reacted too slowly, but I think there have been times where a school has jumped ahead a little more in hindsight to where they want to be," Byrne said. "It's a challenging situation. I think the market place has gotten to such that there will be agents out there that will try to parlay one school against another. And I think that's driven up some of the numbers we're seeing today."
Florida State and Auburn have made their moves to protect their interests, and can spend this week focusing on what it takes to win a national championship. But until the Longhorns introduce a new coach, fans of the Seminoles and Tigers - and Bears and Cardinals, etc. - have reason to be at least a little distracted by what's going on in Austin.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at WWW.TWITTER.COM/RALPHDRUSSOAP
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- A decade after a winless season, Central Florida earned its first trip to a BCS bowl.
Once the Knights got there, they were given no chance at winning. Not against Baylor, the nation's best offensive team.
They refused to listen to all the negativity and turned the Fiesta Bowl into a rousing BCS debut.
Blake Bortles accounted for 394 yards and four touchdowns, Storm Johnson ran for two early tone-setting scores and No. 15 Central Florida outlasted Baylor 52-42 on Wednesday night in the highest-scoring game in Fiesta Bowl history.
"We did prove a lot of people wrong," Johnson said.
Central Florida (12-1) wasn't given much of a chance, entering the game as a 17-point underdog.
The Knights didn't care about the spread and certainly didn't back down from the big, bad Bears, racing past Baylor with an array of big plays.
They took an early 14-point lead and kept rolling, piling up 556 total yards in the second-highest scoring BCS bowl ever.
Bortles, the junior who could be weighing a jump to the NFL, was the catalyst, throwing for three touchdowns on 20-of-31 passing and running for 93 yards and another score.
Rannell Hall accounted for some of the biggest plays, catching four passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson kept Baylor from ganging up on UCF's passing game, grinding out 124 yards on 20 carries.
So much about having no shot.
"There's not many outside of us who believe we had a chance, but we did and I think we showed what UCF football is all about," Bortles said.
Known for its offense prowess, Baylor (11-2) had a hard time keeping up with the Knights.
The Big 12 champions finished with 550 total yards, but were uncharacteristically undisciplined, getting 17 penalties for 135 yards.
Bryce Petty tried to keep the Bears in it, running for three touchdowns while throwing for 356 yards and two more scores. Lache Seastrunk had some big runs in the first half and finished with 117 yards.
None of it was enough the way UCF ran through Baylor's defense.
"We caught a football team that was hot," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "They played extremely well early, got into us. We tried to play catch-up the whole game, never could turn it around when it needed turning."
The Fiesta Bowl was the BCS coming-out party for Baylor and Central Florida before college football's switch to a playoff system next season.
The Bears had been building toward this since Briles became coach in 2009, winding up his high-octane offense to lead the nation in scoring and churn out the second-most yards in FBS history.
Central Florida had a slower rise under George O'Leary.
The coach who was fired by Notre Dame five days after being hired for lying on his resume has built his reputation back up in Orlando, taking a program that went winless in 2004 to the inaugural American Athletic Conference title and automatic BCS berth this year.
The matchup was projected to be like the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, when mighty Oklahoma rolled over Connecticut 48-20.
The Knights weren't listening.
They opened with a 76-yard scoring drive capped by Johnson's tackle-breaking 11-yard touchdown run. Johnson scored again on UCF's next possession, this one on a 2-yard run.
The early 14-0 lead was expected. The team leading wasn't.
Baylor finally revved up its offense late in the first quarter, scoring on a 1-yard TD sneak by Petty and Central Florida looked as if it was ready to fall apart with turnovers on three consecutive plays.
Baylor only turned one of those into points: a 30-yard pass from Petty to Levi Norwood. Petty followed Johnson's fumble with an interception in the end zone, just his third of the season.
"Unfortunately, that was the turning point in the game," Petty said. "We needed that to save momentum up for us, especially after a turnover. Turnovers in the red zone kill an offense."
Then came the spectacular plays, seemingly one after another.
Hall darted and dashed through Baylor's defense for a 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass, with help from Josh Reese's downfield block.
Petty hurtled himself into the end zone, flipping over UCF's Brandon Alexander to cap a 13-yard run. That gave Baylor 659 points, breaking the NCAA record for a 13-game season set by Texas (652) in 2005.
The momentum was gone shortly after, when Hall turned a swing pass into a 34-yard touchdown - assisted again by Reese - to put the Knights up 28-20 at halftime.
Petty scored his third touchdown on 1-yard run in the third quarter and dashed in for the 2-point conversion to tie the game, but Central Florida still wouldn't back down.
Bortles hit Breshad Perriman on a 10-yard touchdown pass and opened the fourth quarter by scoring on a 15-yard run to put the Knights up 42-28.
Even after Baylor moved quickly for a 9-yard touchdown run by Glasco Martin, UCF had an answer, going up 49-35 on Johnson's 40-yard run through the heart of the Bears' defense.
The Knights held on from there, heading home with a giant trophy and a lot more national respect.