Auburn players pose with a Southeastern Conference sign after defeating… (Dave Martin / Associated…)
CHARLOTTE, N.C. —The final Saturday of the first Bowl Championship Series season in 1998 ended with shocking losses by Kansas State and UCLA that turned the BCS on its ear hole.
Wild endings in St. Louis and Miami that day put Tennessee and Florida State in the first title game.
It seemed only right that the final Saturday of the last BCS season should match that chaotic conclusion.
Well, it certainly tried.
In the end, though, somehow, it sort of broke cleanly.
Top-ranked Florida State easily defeated Duke to earn one BCS title spot and Michigan State's 34-24 upset of No. 2 Ohio State will put Southeastern Conference champion Auburn in the title game.
You heard it right, the SEC did it again, and now has a chance to win its eighth consecutive BCS title.
Auburn (12-1) put itself in position to play for the title with a 59-42 win over Missouri in the SEC title game at Atlanta.
The team that should be kicking itself is Stanford, which probably would have been No. 2 had it not lost a close game at Utah.
Florida State was the easy part. The top-ranked Seminoles entered Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference championship game at Bank of America Stadium here needing a win over undersized Duke to clinch its bid to the BCS title game Jan. 6 at the Rose Bowl.
Florida State's biggest worry this week involved sexual-assault allegations against quarterback Jameis Winston.
That cloud was lifted Thursday when State Attorney Willie Meggs said there was not enough evidence to pursue a case.
Florida State failed to score in the first quarter against Duke but regrouped to score an easy 45-7 win.
The Seminoles improved to 13-0 and will play in their first BCS title game since losing to Oklahoma after the 2000 season.
"I love my team," Winston said on the field after the game. "We ain't done yet."
The second BCS spot was the one being hotly contested.
The top two teams in Sunday's final BCS standings will play in Pasadena.
Ohio State entered Saturday No. 2 and undefeated but needed to defeat Michigan State to fend off the one-loss champion of the Southeastern Conference.
Even a Buckeyes win wasn't going to quell the debate. The SEC, having won seven straight BCS titles, was not going to go down without some serious lobbying.
Auburn, No. 3 in the BCS going in, had the better one-loss case after it handed Missouri a second loss at the Georgia Dome.
The Auburn-to-Pasadena campaign started even before Ohio State and Michigan State kicked off in the Big Ten title game at Indianapolis.
The pep rally began last week when Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said it would be a "disservice to our nation" if the SEC champion got left out.
His comment may have been slightly over the top.
After Saturday's win, Jacobs told reporters Auburn's case came down to nine words: "Strength of schedule, strength of schedule, strength of schedule."
First-year Coach Gus Malzhan put in a vote for his team.
"A lot of teams aren't getting better each week," he said. "This team is."
Auburn did give up 42 points and 538 total yards to Missouri but that wasn't part of the discussion.
"God willing, we get into the national championship," said Auburn running back Tre Mason, who scored four touchdowns.
It turns out all Auburn needed was Michigan State.
Auburn fans had to have spent Saturday night in knots.
They no doubt went nuts when Michigan State jumped to a 17-0 lead, but then Ohio State scored 24 unanswered points before Michigan State regained the lead in the fourth quarter and held on for the win.
For all its problems and quirks, this is the kind of high-stakes drama the BCS has consistently provided.
Auburn has completed an amazing, incredible, inexplicable regular season under Malzhan.
In the end, though, all the Tigers could do was sit and wait. The SEC appeared to be boxed out — until Ohio State fell.
Meanwhile, in Charlotte, Florida State started slowly against Duke in the ACC title game but eventually scored a convincing win.
The victory solidified Florida State's spot at No. 1 in the BCS.
No matter how the standings turn out, there is no denying Auburn's magic this season.
But the Tigers' season just got a little better.
They shocked the nation in the 2010 season when they came from nowhere to win the BCS title, but this uprising has been even more shocking.
The program went into a complete post-Cam Newton tailspin that led to coach Gene Chizik's firing last year after he completed an 0-8 SEC season with a 49-0 loss to Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
Auburn hired Malzhan, the offensive coordinator on the 2010 team, but no one expected a quick fix.
Boy, was everybody wrong.
Auburn entered the season unranked and narrowly escaped Washington State, 31-24, on Labor Day weekend.
The Tigers lost by 14 points at Louisiana State three weeks later but got back in the title hunt with two of the most incredible finishes in college football history.
The first came three weeks ago, when Auburn beat Georgia on a fourth-down Hail Mary pass that two Georgia defenders should have knocked down.
Last week, Auburn topped that when it shocked Alabama on Chris Davis' 109-yard return of a missed 57-yard field-goal attempt with one second left.
"It's been one of the more unique experiences I've ever been a part of," Malzhan said Saturday.