NEW YORK (WFAN) — Wes Byrum gets the question all the time: What would it be like to give Auburn a BCS title with one kick?
Luckily, he already knows what it’s like to be the hero — at least on a smaller stage.
The Tigers’ senior kicker has five game-winning field goals on his resume, including two this season, for a decided edge in clutch kicking experience over his Oregon counterpart. Rob Beard hasn’t been called upon for such a pressure-packed field goal or extra point during a Ducks season mostly filled with blowouts.
“When I went home for Christmas, all of my friends asked me, ‘What if you get to do that?’ It’s been pretty cool to think about it,” Byrum said. “But, hopefully, it won’t be needed, that we’ll take care of business.
“But if the time calls for it, I guess I’ll deal with it then.”
Kickers may get the least coaching of any college football players — often practicing off by themselves and correcting their own mistakes — but consider how different Monday night’s title game would look if not for some key makes and misses this season.
Byrum provided the decisive points in three of Auburn’s games this season — connecting on a 39-yard field goal in overtime against Clemson in Week 3, making a 24-yarder as time expired in a 37-34 win against Kentucky three weeks later, and hitting a fourth-quarter extra point in a 28-27 win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl.
(Just ask Arizona State if those PATs are automatic: The Sun Devils lost to Wisconsin on a blocked extra point in September, then beat rival Arizona with two blocks in the regular-season finale.)
Oregon survived in a 15-13 victory at California when the Bears’ Giorgio Tavecchio erased his go-ahead field goal with a penalty and then missed his second attempt. And Boise State could have been in the BCS mix if not for a pair of late misses by Kyle Brotzman in a loss at Nevada.
It’s a dream scenario and also a potential nightmare for kickers.
Tennessee’s Daniel Lincoln has experienced it both ways. He forced overtime with one field goal then beat South Carolina with another as a freshman and could have snuffed out Alabama’s perfect season last year but had a 44-yard attempt blocked. Then, in last week’s Music City Bowl, it was his missed extra point that set up a bizarre final sequence that allowed North Carolina to win in overtime.
“To everybody else, it’s a big, different moment but for you it’s the same kick,” Lincoln said. “The moment doesn’t define what you’re supposed to do. What you’re supposed to do stays the same no matter what circumstances you’re in.”
That can be easier said than done in circumstances that certainly feel different than any first-quarter chip shot.
When eventual Lou Groza Award winner Dan Bailey was called upon to kick a game-winner for Oklahoma State this season against Texas A&M, his teammates were suddenly cracking jokes to try to ease the tension.
“They’re going to say what they want, so you just kind of have to take it as it comes and try to tell yourself that this is a big situation, but it’s not any different than the other kicks,” Bailey said.
“You have to stay calm and kind of just laugh it off, almost.”
Bailey’s opportunity came up in a snap. Texas A&M had the ball and was driving in a tie game when Shaun Lewis intercepted one of Jerrod Johnson’s passes with 16 seconds left. All of a sudden, Bailey was center stage.
“I had never been in the situation before, so I didn’t really know what to think. Looking back now, it’s probably better that it happened that way because I didn’t have time to think about it,” Bailey said. “It just happened — boom-boom — and then we’re out on the field.
“If I could do it again, that’s an ideal situation.”
Maybe that’s good news for Beard, who hasn’t had to attempt a game-winner for Oregon. He missed from 37 and 48 yards in the close call against Cal, and the rest of the Ducks’ games were decided by double digits.
Tulsa’s Kevin Fitzpatrick asked his holder, punter Michael Such, to keep teammates away as much as possible before he beat Memphis in overtime last season. The assignment became even tougher when Tommy West called timeout to try to ice him.
“Pressure kicks are really about focus and not treating it any differently. Even though it is an important kick and you could win or lose the game, it’s just another field goal,” Fitzpatrick said.
“You’ve kicked field goals in practice every day and it’s no different.”
Fitzpatrick also hit a game-winner against Notre Dame this season that he considered tougher because he had missed his previous attempt. Having experienced the “million thoughts” running through his head on his kicks, Fitzpatrick said he can only imagine what Brotzman was thinking with his two misses against Nevada.
There’s one big no-no.
“I never think, ‘What if I miss this kick?’” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s always the excitement of what’s going to happen after I make it.”
AP Sports Writers John Zenor in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Beth Rucker in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.