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BCS National Championship
Teams: Auburn (13-0) vs. Oregon (12-0)
Date: January 10, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
When the bowl schedule is released every year, there is no doubt the national championship is the matchup nearly all college football fans circle as a must-see game. Although this game is supposed to feature the top two teams in the nation, only one of the last six national title matchups has been decided by less than 10 points.
Although the recent title games haven’t been close on the final scoreboard, that shouldn’t put a damper on the excitement for this matchup. Auburn and Oregon are two of the nation’s most explosive offenses, each averaging over 40 points a game. There’s plenty of starpower in this matchup, led by Auburn’s Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cameron Newton and Oregon running back LaMichael James.
Conference bragging rights are up for grabs in this one. The SEC has won four national championship games in a row, while Oregon is trying to become the first Pac-10 team to hoist the title since USC did in 2004. The SEC is the best conference in college football, but a win by Oregon would be a nice boost to the Pac-10’s resume going into 2011.
Auburn has lived dangerously this season, winning four games by three points or less, including a furious second-half rally against Alabama to keep its title hopes alive in late November. Oregon has been a strong team in the second half all year, with its fast-paced offense wearing down opponents. Although the Ducks had several games that hung in the balance in the fourth quarter, only one matchup was decided by less than 10 points.
When Auburn has the ball
Stopping Cameron Newton has been impossible for the 12 opponents on Auburn’s schedule so far. With a month to prepare, will Oregon find an answer? Although Newton is one of the nation’s most dangerous quarterbacks rushing the ball, the junior shouldn’t be overlooked as a passer. Newton leads the NCAA in passing efficiency and has only six interceptions this year. When Newton throws, Darvin Adams has been the go-to option this year, but Terrell Zachery and Emory Blake will see plenty of passes in their direction.
Newton is a big part of the Auburn attack, but he isn’t the only piece. Joining the Heisman Trophy winner in the backfield will be running backs Michael Dyer, Onterio McCalebb and Mario Fannin. The trio of backs combined for 2,108 yards and 19 touchdowns this year. Dyer will likely lead the team in carries for this game, but McCalebb is a valuable change of pace option and will see plenty of action.
Considering how successful Oregon’s offense has been this year, the defense often gets overlooked. The Ducks finished the year ranked among the top 30 in rush, total and scoring defense, along with generating 31 sacks. The secondary was one of the most opportunistic in college football, picking off 20 passes and held opposing quarterbacks to a 53.5 completion percentage. Slowing down Newton is a tall task, but Oregon can look to the Mississippi State game film for some guidance. In the 17-14 win over the Bulldogs, Newton was held to 136 passing yards and 70 on the ground. The Ducks also need to be sure tacklers and not allow Newton any yards after the first contact.
When Oregon has the ball
Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense has been a nightmare for opponents all season and it’s a bad matchup for an Auburn’s defense that has been under fire all year. Although the Tigers boast a solid front seven, the secondary has been frequently torched. The Tigers rank 105th in pass defense, allowing quarterbacks to complete 62.7 percent of passes and 250.5 yards per game. Coordinator Ted Roof has done a good job making second half adjustments, but Oregon’s offense has thrived after halftime, wearing down opponents with its frenetic pace.
Quarterback Darron Thomas has thrived in his first season as the starter, completing 60.7 percent of his passes, throwing for 2,518 yards and 28 scores, along with adding 492 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Due to an injury to backup quarterback Nate Costa, Thomas hasn’t been a factor running the ball the last two weeks. However, with everything on the line in the national championship, expect Thomas to see an even bigger role running the ball against Auburn. Despite wearing the first-year starter label, Thomas has been everything Oregon needed for this offense and with Auburn’s porous secondary, should have an opportunity to make plenty of plays with his arm. Receivers Jeffrey Maehl, D.J. Davis, Lavasier Tuinei and Josh Huff are solid weapons that will give the Tigers plenty of fits downfield.
Although Thomas has blossomed into one of the Pac-10’s best quarterbacks, running back LaMichael James is the star of the offense. Despite missing the opener due to a suspension, the sophomore led the nation with 1,682 yards and finished with 21 rushing scores. The Tigers have allowed only two rushers to top 100 yards in a single game this season and their front four will be a tough test for James and the Oregon offensive line. Although the Tigers have been better on defense in the second half, the Ducks fast-paced attack will be difficult to keep in check.
Oregon’s Cliff Harris is one of the best returners in the nation, scoring four touchdowns and averaging 19.5 yards on punt returns. Josh Huff is a solid option for the Ducks on kickoff returns, averaging 25.3 yards per attempt. The edge in field goals goes to Auburn, with kicker Wes Byrum connecting on 15 of 20 attempts.
Auburn NCAA Rankings (out of 120 teams)
Rush Offense: 6 (287.2 ypg)
Pass Offense: 69 (210.5 ypg)
Scoring Offense: 6 (42.7 ppg)
Rush Defense: 11 (111.7 ypg)
Pass Defense: 105 (250.5 ypg)
Scoring Defense: 54 (24.5 ppg)
Turnover Margin: 33 (+.38)
Oregon NCAA Rankings (out of 120 teams)
Rush Offense: 4 (303.8 ypg)
Pass Offense: 48 (233.7 ypg)
Scoring Offense: 1 (49.3 ppg)
Rush Defense: 15 (117.6 ypg)
Pass Defense: 56 (214 ypg)
Scoring Defense: 14 (18.4 ppg)
Turnover Margin: 7 (+1.08)
Prediction: With two dynamic offenses matching up, the team that wins the turnover battle and finds the right answers on defense will win this game. Auburn has found a way to win every close game this season and expect that to be the case once again. Oregon will score, but the defense won’t be able to find an answer for Cameron Newton. Expect a high-scoring game, but the SEC will earn its fifth-straight championship.
Auburn by 4