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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
Michigan State University student Paula Vasconcelos has a friend take her photo with Sparty on the MSU campus in East Lansing, Mich., on Monday, as the statue is decked out in a football jersey and two bouquets of roses. (Lansing State Journal | Greg DeRuiter)

Spartans spare us rotten BCS final

The fruit basket is on its way, presumably. It should arrive in East Lansing, Mich., sometime today. And word is, it's quite extravagant.

This is as it should be when you're the Southeastern Conference and you have all that dough to spend from all those big-deal bowl games, and you've avoided the embarrassment of missing out on the biggest of the big-deal games thanks to a bunch of Spartans from Michigan State.

Sparty took down Ohio State 34-24 in the Big Ten championship game Saturday night, a not unexpected result to anyone who has been paying attention. The loss ended Ohio State's 24-game winning streak, but the streak had been on the endangered species list for quite a while this fall, given all the Buckeyes' nonblowouts over some pretty beige competition.

So in marched MSU, and out marched OSU. And, yes, the fruit basket is just desserts, not only because the SEC will now be represented in the BCS title game as usual, but because the rest of us will be spared any further blather over whether or not Auburn should have jumped an unbeaten BCS automatic qualifier team.

Well, Auburn jumped 'em. But they were already down, so problem solved.

That leaves us with what frankly will be a much more intriguing matchup for the national title than it would have been, so send Sparty another fruit basket for that. Florida State-Ohio State would have been Alabama-Notre Dame all over again, if not worse. Florida State-Auburn, however, has an outside chance of actually being, you know, a game.

Missouri came to the SEC title game with a team that had gotten to 11- 1 thanks to a dazzling quarterback (James Franklin) and a defense studded with athletes, particularly up front. And Auburn ran around, over and through them, putting up 59 points and running up 677 yards, including 545 on the ground. Tre Mason gashed Mizzou for 304 all by himself.

So there's your first matchup to watch: Auburn's ground game vs. a fast, athletic Florida State defense that's let no one drink a drop, seven times limiting opponents to a touchdown or less.

The other matchup to watch is Florida State quarterback and presumptive Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston vs. the Auburn defense.

And unlike the previous matchup, that one looks on paper to be a flat mismatch.

This is, after all, an Auburn team that just gave up 42 points to Mizzou, and 365 total yards to Franklin. Now it gets Winston, who has passed for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns this year, while completing almost 70 percent of his throws.

Even given the perceived inferiority of the competition in the Atlantic Coast Conference, that's a load. It would be a load in the ACC or the Mountain West or the Really Tiny Guy Conference. It would be a load in the Florida High School Athletic Association.

And so the conclusion, at least here, is the Seminoles drop a truckload of numbers on the Tigers, and, when they're done, they'll be laying hands on the crystal football. Over-under on points: 100.

And the over-under on fruit baskets headed north?

At least two. Three if you count the one from Columbus, Ohio, where Urban Meyer now gets Clemson in the Orange Bowl instead of Florida State.

Thanks, Sparty.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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