NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — As No. 1 Florida State prepares to battle for the program's third national championship, it's hard to think that one of the biggest decisions that pushed it to Pasadena almost went the other way.
FSU coaches reiterated in recent days just how tight the starting quarterback battle was between Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner.
"People look back on it, and they don't believe us," quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders said. "But it was a very, very competitive situation."
The staff put off naming a starter for several weeks during fall camp. When coaches finally went around a meeting table to vote, the decision to give Winston the top position wasn't unanimous.
Winston completed 25 of 27 passes in a season-opening win at Pittsburgh and never looked back. Coker, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore, saw his season cut short by surgery on his meniscus after the Nov. 9 Wake Forest game.
Sanders wouldn't specify points that pushed Winston to the top, but he continues to praise Coker's abilities.
"I'm not sure if we had gone with Jacob we wouldn't still be here," Sanders said.
Jimbo compliments: Texas' search for a coach included reports of its interest in FSU's Jimbo Fisher. But Fisher recently signed an extension of about $4.1 million per year through 2018. And Sunday, Texas announced it hired Louisville's Charlie Strong.
"I went against Charlie a lot of years in the SEC," Fisher said. "Charlie's an excellent coach, a very good guy, good recruiter. I think he'll do an excellent job."
JIMBO REFLECTS: Fisher is making his first appearance in the BCS title game as a head coach, but he has been on this stage before. Fisher was an assistant under Nick Saban at LSU when the Tigers beat Oklahoma to win the 2003 national title.
"Sometimes, you don't realize how hard it is to get back," Fisher said Sunday in his last news conference before the game. "You think once you get here you can always get back. It's very tough."
LONG LAYOFF: Fisher said a month-long layoff since FSU's 45-7 win over Duke in the ACC title game poses a few challenges. Players have to keep their emotions in check, especially in the opening quarter. Coaches have had several weeks to scheme but can't overanalyze things and abandon what got them here.
"Sometimes, you know so much about your opponent and you try to do too much," Fisher said. "You'd have to play five more games to get all the plays in you want."
FSU S Terrence Brooks said the month off posed another challenge: grandma's home cooking: "I made sure I had to run all that off in practice and get back to my natural self."
QUICK QUIPS: FSU DT Timmy Jernigan said Auburn's offensive line is an underrated part of the No. 1 rushing attack in Division I-A.
"Their left tackle, Greg Robinson, is a freak," Jernigan said of the sophomore.
Tigers DB Chris Davis said he isn't concerned about Winston eluding tacklers as he did in highlight-reel touchdown passes against Boston College and Maryland.
"We ain't never had a chance to sack him," he said. "He hasn't gotten away from us yet."
Information from Times wires was used in this report.