CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Florida State's road to a third football national championship will indeed go through the Southeastern Conference.
The Seminoles, a unanimous No. 1, will officially face SEC champ Auburn on Jan. 6 at the BCS National Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif.
"I didn't care who (the opponent) was,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “I'm just glad Florida State's there."
A Seminoles-Tigers matchup wasn't on anyone's radar as recently as last month. But near-miraculous wins over Georgia and then-No. 1 Alabama thrust Auburn into the discussion.
Then previously unbeaten Ohio State rendered a week's worth of debate moot by falling, 34-24, to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, clearing AU's path for a meeting with Florida State.
FSU will be the latest to challenge the SEC's streak of consecutive national championships, which is up to seven. But unlike most of those seasons, the challenger is also expected to be a decided favorite.
“I feel like it's not the ACC conference versus the SEC conference. It's Florida State vs. Auburn,” FSU senior Lamarcus Joyner said. “It's a bunch of great, talented group of kids over here vs. a great, talented group of kids.
“There's no doubt in my mind that they're a great football team, but it's us versus them.”
Although FSU and Auburn haven't met on the football field since 1990 – AU leads the all-time series 13-4-1 – there are still plenty of connections between schools that are located only about 200 miles apart.
Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher began his major college coaching career at Auburn, where he served as the quarterbacks coach from 1993-1998. Fisher coached under Terry Bowden, son of legendary FSU coach Bobby, and helped guide the Tigers to an 11-0 record in '93, but, due to NCAA probation, the Tigers were banned from TV and postseason play.
The Seminoles went on to claim their first championship that same year.
“I always tell Florida State this: we should have had half of that National Championship in '93,” Fisher said with a laugh. “ We were the only undefeated team in the country. But that was great years at Auburn. I enjoyed my years at Auburn, I really did.”
While at Auburn, Fisher mentored Dameyune Craig, a quarterback who led the Tigers to 18 wins as a starter in 1996 and '97 and set a school record for total yards in a single game with 588.
When Fisher took over as head coach at FSU in 2010, he hired Craig on his first staff. Craig served as FSU's quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator for three seasons before leaving to become the co-offensive coordinator at his alma mater prior to the 2013 season.
Winston is plenty familiar with Auburn, too. He shares his hometown, Bessemer, Ala., with former AU great Bo Jackson and grew up in the shadow of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry.
And he also credited Craig as a big reason he ended up leaving the Yellowhammer State for Tallahassee.
“Me being from Alabama,” Winston said, “I'm going to be excited to play this game.”