SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Players on both sides admitted that they saw this matchup coming long before the regular season ended.
Yep, Auburn and Oregon have seemingly been on a collision course for some time now.
It’s the matchup most of college football was hankering to see, and we get it on Monday night in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
SEC blogger Chris Low and Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller lock horns in a little debate leading up to the game.
Chris Low: First of all, Ted, I know you’re not used to this. A Pac-10 team plays in the BCS National Championship game about as often as one of your teams fills up its stadium. In fact, until I saw Oregon out here in the Ducks’ spiffy new threads, I didn’t realize there was a team in the Pac-10 (other than USC) that was serious about its football. Anyway, my advice is to pace yourself, get plenty of rest before the big game and go ahead and start looking up the BCS National Championship Game records for most rushing yards allowed, most points allowed and most times we’ve seen a quarterback run over a linebacker. The guy who wears No. 2 for Auburn ain’t (as we say in the South) real easy to bring down. Honestly, can Oregon’s undersized defensive line hold up against Auburn’s big, veteran offensive line and the brilliance of Cam Newton?
Ted Miller: Ah, SEC trash talk is great fun. Pac-10 fans always hear it before a Pac-10 team leaves a footprint on an SEC team's forehead. Sure, the SEC has won a few of these BCS games – I forget how many because SEC folks never, ever mention it – but it's curious that none of those wins came over Pac-10 teams. And Chris, just what is the SEC's record with the Pac-10 this millennium? And now, after years of so-called SEC powers jumping behind shrubberies when USC came strutting by looking for a game, you've got Oregon smirking back at you. Auburn, Auburn, Auburn: You are in trouble. I worry because you don't seem to know what's coming. How's the cardio coming? Cam Newton? We over on the West Coast are really glad that a good quarterback played in the SEC this year. Must have been weird! But in the Pac-10, Cam Newton would be just another good quarterback. He's tall. He's heavy. Maybe one day he can be Andrew Luck's personal assistant? Newton isn't the best quarterback Oregon played this season. And the Tigers certainly don't have the best offensive line. Stanford and Auburn would have been a nice game. Oregon beat Stanford by 21 points, shutting out the Cardinal in the second half. To be serious: Oregon isn't going to shut down Newton and the Auburn offense. But you're going to see the Auburn punter more than Jackson Rice. The Ducks’ defense is fast, well-coached, forces a lot of turnovers and asserts itself in the second half. What about the other side of the ball? Is that really an SEC defense? How did Auburn get to this game with a ‘D’ that gave up more than 30 points to Kentucky, Ole Miss and Georgia?
CL: The truth is that this isn’t your typical SEC defense. The last four national championship defenses – all SEC defenses, I might add – were dominant in terms of limiting yards and points. This Auburn defense, while it did improve down the stretch, isn’t going to be confused for being a dominant defense. What the Tigers do have is a dominant player in junior tackle Nick Fairley, who’s the ultimate disrupter up front. Good luck in blocking him. And, yes, I’ve heard a time or two that Oregon does like to play at a fast pace. But it’s difficult to play at a fast pace when you’re continually having to peel your quarterback off the field. Fairley doesn’t just sack quarterbacks. He plants them. But back to the entire Auburn defense. The Tigers have an impeccable sense of timing. When they have to make a play on defense or make a key stop, they do it. It’s usually a different player doing the honors, too. And during winning time (the fourth quarter), the Tigers have outscored their opponents 128-48. The question is: How are the Ducks going to respond when they face a team that can match their speed, and at the same time, is significantly more physical?
TM: I'm curious about how Fairley will, er, fair. This might shock SEC fans -- shock! -- but the Ducks have played against a lot of A-list defensive linemen over the past two seasons: Cal's Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan, UCLA's Brian Price, USC's Jurrell Casey and Oregon State's Stephen Paea. And they've been able to physically handle them. Or at least scheme them out of the game. Further, Auburn won't be the most physical team the Ducks have played: Stanford, last seen stomping Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl, might be the most physical team in the nation. Also, it's a bit of a myth that the Ducks don't play smashmouth. LaMichael James gets a lot of yards between the tackles. In fact, that's where Oregon goes in the fourth quarter when defenses start begging for mercy. Funny you should mention the fourth quarter. Auburn certainly has some nice numbers, but the Ducks have outscored foes 115-24. Think about that: Opponents score an average of 2 points per game in the fourth against Oregon. Chris, we're doing predictions on Monday. But it's clear you're going SEC and I'm going Pac-10. Give me some keys for Auburn to make you look smart and me look dumb.
CL: I think one of the most important keys for Auburn is not to give up anything cheap in the kicking game. The Tigers are 92nd nationally in net punting. Tackling well in the secondary will be equally important. Giving up 10- and 15-yard plays is one thing. But there were times this season when the Tigers gave up too many plays down the field in their secondary. Finally, Auburn needs to make Oregon prove it can tackle Newton. Nobody else has been able to this season. Newton didn’t run as much in those final few games, because teams were daring him to throw the ball. So he beat them throwing it. Something says the Ducks can expect to see a heavy dose early of No. 2 coming right at them. Good luck with that!
TM: Oregon will need to tackle well. It sometimes didn't do that in last year's Rose Bowl against Ohio State and Terrelle Pryor, whose speed and dimensions are not unlike Newton's. I like the Ducks' chances when Newton is passing. They rank sixth in the nation in pass-efficiency defense and grabbed 20 interceptions. The Ducks picked off Andrew Luck twice. Turnovers will be a key. The Ducks force a lot. Auburn doesn't give the ball away much. The Ducks need to win that battle. And the team that wins third down likely wins this game. Well, we're almost done with all the talking -- and typing -- here's hoping we get a competitive, entertaining game into the fourth quarter. Gosh, and I sure hope those big, mean SEC guys don't hurt those itty-bitty Duckies!