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Nancy Smith

Tallahassee Hearts Aflutter as Florida State Prepares to Recapture BCS National Championship

January 3, 2014 - 6:00pm

A soft spot for the underdog? Not much chance of that in Tallahassee Monday night when the undefeated and highly favored Florida State Seminoles meet the Auburn Tigers in the BCS national championship.

"Doesn't matter if you're a native or a transplant or where you went to school," crows Ron Sachs, president and CEO of Sachs Media Group. "If you love Florida, you have to be rooting for FSU ... you have to."

The No. 2 Auburn Tigers will look to extend the SECs reign over the national title game against No. 1 FSU, the nations only unbeaten team. But going into the weekend the Tigers were 8.5-point underdogs, and the gap is expected to widen by game time.

"I'm a Gator, I swore I wouldn't watch," said Mary St. Claire, 28, an employee of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in Tallahassee. "Ordinarily I can't stand the 'Noles. ... My friends in Gainesville will never forgive me for saying this, but I'm sure I'll be in a sports bar Monday night cheering with the rest of the FSU fans."

First-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn says he has no idea which fan base will show up in greater force in Pasadena, the Tigers' or the Seminoles'. And he isn't making any predictions, either. He's as aware as anyone that FSU has 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston leading the charge. But, he promises his team isn't going to roll over. "It's been a very fun year (for Auburn), I'm really proud of everybody and we're playing our best football at the right time at the end of the season."

If Auburn wins, the SEC will end the BCS' term with eight straight national titles by teams from that conference. Some who study FSU feel Jimbo Fisher has been trying to build an SEC-caliber team in a Tallahassee to challenge that streak ever since he took over for legendary coach and NCAA all-time wins leader Bobby Bowden.

"That's what I like most about Jimbo," said Cal Bryant, owner of a sandwich shop near the FSU campus. "He doesn't just want to win, he wants a blowout. That's the SEC way and that's how he competes. Jimbo is a cut above the ACC if you ask me."

The state governors put more than their hearts on the line -- well, slightly. They made the game tastier. Florida Gov. Rick Scott bet a Key lime pie from Kermit's in Key West that the Seminoles will remain undefeated and win the national title; Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley put up a gallon of Toomer's Lemonade on Auburn's chances.

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel and his successor, Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, have a bet of their own: Jacksonville University grad Weatherford is all-out for FSU, where his brother Drew played quarterback, Crisafulli has family who pledged to Auburn. On Monday Weatherford tweeted their challenge:

"It's ON! @SteveCrisafulli & I have settled on (BCS) bet. Loser must wear winners' team colors for official FL House photo. Go Noles!"

Most Florida legislators are into it -- though some have interesting takes on the game.

Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, admitted, "I'm split on this one. I spent some time at Auburn when I was getting my master's, but I'm a Floridian and proud of the 'Noles. What I'll do is watch to see which team is playing with the most heart and most sportsmanship and I'll get behind that one. It usually only takes me a couple of downs to figure all that out."

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, told Sunshine State News Friday, "I don't know who is even playing for the national championship Monday night. All I'm thinking about is the Orange Bowl tonight. I went to Clemson -- go Clemson, beat Ohio State!" (In fact, Clemson did win in dramatic fashion, 40-35.)

Edwards laughed and admitted, "OK, I'm sure I'll be somewhere in Tallahassee Monday night cheering for the Seminoles."

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423.

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