There’s one way for visions of their amazing, turnaround season to transcend Ricardo Louis’ tipped-ball miracle catch against Georgia and Chris Davis’ who’d-a-thunk-it, 109-yard return of a missed field goal against Alabama.
Ultimately, No. 2 Auburn must defeat the luck narrative by beating No. 1 Florida State in Monday’s BCS final, and doing it the same way the Tigers beat Missouri in the SEC Championship Game will help.
Until then, the luck narrative chases Auburn like a gassed defender after four quarters of line-up-and-go football against Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up offense. The perception around the country is that Monday’s game will pit lucky against good because undefeated Florida State won all of its games by at least 14 points.
So, the luck question overtook the first full day of news conferences Thursday. Not surprisingly, players and coaches from both camps weren’t buying it.
“I mean, deep down inside, I don’t think we look at it as luck” Auburn center Reese Dismukes said. “I mean, we went out, and I think we rushed for nearly 300 yards against Georgia and Alabama that were not giving up that much at all.
“I think Alabama was No. 1 in rush defense, and Georgia was up there, too.”
Ah, but there were those dramatic endings that out-shouted everything that happened before them and led to Louis and Davis mugging for a Sports Illustrated cover.
Those who haven’t seen two Georgia safeties attempt to catch Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall’s Hail-Mary heave rather than knock it down, or who haven’t seen replays of Davis’ runback, just haven’t been watching ESPN.
Arguably, those were the two most memorable plays in any major sport in the calendar year of 2013, right up there with Ray Allen’s dramatic 3-pointer in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
They’re two of the most dramatic plays in college football history, right up there with Cal’s lateral-happy kickoff return into the Stanford band in 1982, and Auburn’s two plays fell within two weeks of each other.
Those two plays define Auburn to those who haven’t followed the team closely all season. Even Florida State players admitted their shock at learning that Auburn had beaten Alabama.
“We still remember that game,” Florida State linebacker Christian Jones said. “We was coming back from Gainesville, against Florida, and I think it was like five minutes left. We were like, ‘I guess we’ll be playing ’Bama in the championship game.’
“We get back home: ‘Oh, Auburn wins. What happened?’”
Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan called Louis’ catch “insane.”
“And the Alabama game was definitely a crazy finish,” he said. “I didn’t see that one coming.”
Still, no player in garnet and gold seems to confuse it with luck.
“I don’t really believe in luck that much,” Jones said. “I mean, Auburn, what I get out of the Auburn wins that they have this season is they’re a team. They play all four quarters. That’s the way I see it.
“People look at it, ‘Man, the Alabama game or the Georgia game, the games they should have lost,’ but that’s a prime example of why it’s so important to play four quarters of football. ... I think Auburn does a great job of doing that. They don’t lose any confidence when they get down or when the clock is ticking. They keep playing, and they capitalize on those teams when they think it's over, and a big play happens.”
Auburn was in position to beat Georgia and Alabama because of the Tigers’ top-ranked running game. That, more than any other factor, is why the Tigers are playing for a national championship.
Like most teams that get this far, they needed luck along the way.
Perceptions about Auburn weigh the luck more because Louis’ catch and Davis’ runback were spectacular plays, fast-tracked into college football lore.
Too, Auburn’s 3-9 finish a year ago makes it hard for many to believe the Tigers could possibly be as good as they are lucky. Otherwise, how could they have made such a turnaround?
There’s one way for Auburn to mix more good in with the luck that shapes perceptions of the Tigers, and that’s to beat a Florida State team that seemingly didn’t need luck to reach Pasadena.
“You really can’t just say at the end of the game,” quarterback Nick Marshall said. “The coaches always tell us in the fourth quarter that we’re going to find a way to win the game, so that’s what we’ve been doing since day one.
“We’re going to find a way to win the game, when it comes down to it.”
Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.