Watching it again has me more convinced than ever that the Tigers didn't get beat by Florida State, they just lost that game. Finding ways to win close games was something the 2013 Auburn team did very well going back to a big play late in the contest against Mississippi State early in the season.
At midseason there were two or three big plays at the end of the game in the win at Texas A&M, a performance that gave the Tigers even more confidence and momentum that they could have a really strong year.
At the end of the regular season the Tigers came through with key plays late in the victories vs. Georgia and Alabama that put the Tigers over the top in those rivalry games. They also stepped up and took control of the contest in the fourth quarter vs. Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
If the Tigers could have made one more big play in Pasadena they would be going into the 2014 season as the defending national champion. There were a lot of those type plays vs. FSU and several stand out to me like the late kickoff return for the Seminoles and the holding penalty on Greg Robinson on a big third down play when it looked like Auburn was getting ready to score. However, the Tigers had to punt instead.
There was a very, very close call on an uncatchable ball in the end zone, the fake punt and the missed tackles on the final possession that turned a short gainer into a big play that flipped the field position. Each of those plays were big factors in determining the outcome. Any one of those turning out differently could have meant another crystal football for the Auburn trophy case.
The Tigers also missed a potential touchdown when Ricardo Louis got behind the FSU defense and he and Nick Marshall couldn't hook up on a long pass to take advantage of it. With a second-year starter at quarterback throwing to a more experienced group of receivers, I think that is an area the 2014 Tigers will be better at executing in when those opportunities arise this year.
Watching the championship game again reminded me of what a great season Tre Mason had and he played a terrific game vs. the Seminoles. He had performances in which he gained more yardage, but considering the circumstances, playing in the BCS game vs. a very athletic defense, his effort was terrific. His final touchdown run to put the Tigers ahead with a little more than a minute left was a classic.
With the way he was running the football, and considering how hard the Auburn kids were playing, I am confident that if the Tigers had gotten the football back after the late FSU touchdown with enough time to move it they would have scored again to regain the lead.
If Auburn's team plays that hard again this year, and plays together as a unit with one heartbeat, I think more success is on the way. The 2014 team may be more capable than the 2013 team was in most areas, but the schedule is very challenging and the Tigers are going to have to be improved and 100 percent dialed in to handle that challenge.