War. Damn. Spartans.
By the time the dramatic events of college football’s Championship Saturday determined which two teams would play for the national title, these were the only words to explain what happened.
On that 15th Saturday of the 2013 college football season, it took two wins and one loss to send Florida State and Auburn to the BCS National Championship Game to played at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6, 2014.
This wasn’t supposed to happen.
When the votes were counted for The Associated Press' preseason Top 25 college football poll, there were 43 teams that had been named on the ballots of the 60 sports writers and broadcasters who contributed. Two-time defending national champion Alabama received 55 first-place votes and led all teams in overall points. Bringing up the rear of the "Also Receiving Votes" list accompanying the Top 25 teams, was Brigham Young.
With their one mention, BYU had received precisely one more vote of confidence than Gus Malzahn's Auburn squad. Despite what would follow, this was no injustice. Malzahn was replacing former coach Gene Chizik after the team had stumbled to a 3-9 record in 2012. The Seminoles were rated much higher than the Tigers by the AP voters (as well as those contributing to the USA Today Poll and the ESPN.com Power Rankings) before the season kicked off. Still, they were only designated as the No. 11 team in the nation at the time.
Four months later, No. 2 Auburn is preparing to play for the national championship against No. 1 Florida State. In part because ... War. Damn. Spartans.
For these two teams to climb over every other in the AP poll and eventually the BCS standings over the course of the 2013 campaign required impressive performances in their own games but also fortuitous results week after week, from coast to coast. Of the 10 teams ranked ahead of them at the start of the season, the Noles only had the chance to defeat two (Florida and Clemson). By virtue of playing in the loaded SEC, Auburn had the chance to face four teams ranked in that initial poll en route to the BCS title game. It took two miracles but the Tigers were able to win three of those four games (Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama). That still left a pair of powerhouse Pac-12 teams capable of reaching the big game in Pasadena, that Big Ten squad riding an epic unbeaten streak and the handful of other title aspirants hoping a flawless season would win them the hearts of voters and the processors of the computers when it came time to name the combatants in the final championship game of the BCS era. Over 15 weeks of football on campuses from Palo Alto to Louisville, the remaining contenders faltered as Jameis Winston steamrolled the ACC and Auburn found new ways to surprise the SEC.
Here are the 13 unexpected upsets that ended the title hopes of others while propelling the Tigers and Seminoles to Pasadena, including the one that had everyone at Toomer’s Corner altering the school’s traditional battle cry to “War! Damn! Spartans!”
Week 1: No. 8 Clemson upsets No. 5 Georgia 38-35
There were just three teams to receive first-place votes in the preseason AP Top 25 poll: Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia. The Bulldogs were the fifth-ranked team entering the season and were promptly upset by No. 8 Clemson. Mark Richt's team would figure in a handful of key SEC games over the remainder of the season but never regain another first-place vote.
Week 2: No. 11 Georgia upsets No. 6 South Carolina 41-30
Misery loves company. A week after their own national championship aspirations took a major hit, the No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs dealt a blow to South Carolina's BCS dreams.
Week 7: Utah upsets No. 5 Stanford 27-21
In arguably the most surprising upset of the season, unranked Utah sealed a stunning win over No. 5 Stanford with a goal-line stand in the final minute. The Cardinal entered Week 7 of the season having been ranked either No. 4 or No. 5 in every AP Top 25 of the season and seemed to be rolling toward a Week 11 meeting with Oregon.
Week 7: No. 25 Missouri upsets No. 7 Georgia 41-26
Having just broken into the Top 25 in Week 7, the Missouri Tigers notched their first statement win of the season with an upset of Georgia in Athens. Mizzou would climb to No. 14 in the Week 8 AP Top 25, beginning a run to the SEC Championship Game.
Week 8: UCF upsets No. 8 Louisville 38-35
Led by star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville opened the 2013 season 6-0 and had risen to No. 8 in the AP Top 25 Poll by Week 8. With a navigable schedule in the American Athletic Conference, Louisville seemed to have a reasonable shot at an undefeated regular season and therefore an outside chance at a berth in the BCS National Championship Game if things broke their way. Instead, Central Florida broke them.
Week 8: No. 24 Auburn upsets No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41
Having just cracked the AP Top 25, No. 24 Auburn earned its first signature win of the season by outlasting Johnny Manziel and No. 7 Texas A&M in a thriller in College Station. The Auburn defense battered Manziel, briefly sidelining him with a shoulder injury. More impressively, Tre Mason and the Tigers' offense outscored Johnny Football.
Week 8: No. 5 Florida State upsets No. 3 Clemson 51-14
On a Saturday night in November, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston truly became "Famous Jameis." The freshman led the Seminoles as they thrashed the Tigers before a stunned crowd in Death Valley. The initial BCS standings would be released a day later and Florida State would be at the No. 2 spot. The Noles would never face another team ranked higher than themselves as they finished out an undefeated regular season and won the ACC Championship Game.
Week 9: No. 21 South Carolina vs. No. 5 Missouri 27-24 in 2OT
Unranked just three weeks earlier, Missouri climbed to No. 5 in the Week 9 AP Top 25 poll and BCS standings. Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks engineered a stunning rally to halt the Tigers' momentum. Injured SC quarterback Connor Shaw entered the game in progress and helped his team overcome a 17-0 halftime deficit to hand Mizzou its first loss of the season. The Tigers wouldn't lose again until the SEC Championship Game.
Week 11: No. 5 Stanford upsets No. 3 Oregon 26-20
Although the high-octane Oregon Ducks were ranked third in the opening BCS standings on Oct. 20, it was widely assumed that they would leapfrog Florida State ... after they dispatched Stanford. To the disappointment of fans in Eugene, Stanford ruined Oregon's BCS plans (and T-shirt designs) for the second year in a row. By stifling the Ducks' attack, the Cardinal helped Florida State take firm grasp of the No. 2 spot in the BCS rankings behind Alabama.
Week 12: USC upsets No. 4 Stanford 20-17
When the first BCS standings of the season were released on Oct. 20, Stanford was the highest ranked 1-loss team at No. 6. With a win over No. 3 Oregon in Week 11, the Cardinal had vaulted up to No. 4 in the Week 12 BCS standings and shown it was still on the periphery of the national title picture. In Week 12, Ed Orgeron's unranked USC Trojans knocked them from contention.
Week 13: No. 10 Oklahoma State upsets No. 4 Baylor 49-17
Having climbed up to No. 4 in the Week 13 BCS standings, the Baylor Bears were in prime position to sneak into the BCS National Championship Game should two of the teams ahead of them stumble. Two of those teams would eventually lose but not before the Bears went down.
Week 14: No. 4 Auburn upsets No. 1 Alabama 34-28
With arguably the most improbable and dramatic game-winning touchdown in college football history, the Tigers stunned their in-state rivals in the Iron Bowl to clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game.
Week 15: No. 10 Michigan State upsets No. 2 Ohio State 34-24
Riding a 24-game winning streak, Urban Meyer's Buckeyes arrived at Lucas Oil Stadium for the Big Ten Championship knowing that a win would likely send them to the BCS National Championship Game. They couldn't get that win. To the delight of fans who cheered as Auburn defeated Missouri in the SEC Championship Game earlier on Saturday, the Spartans' defense stifled Braxton Miller and the undefeated Buckeyes.