Jan. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Oregon take by Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller: Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas keeps things mostly close to the vest with reporters. But when a group of them expressed skepticism when running back LaMichael James said people doubted the Ducks, Thomas piped in with one word: "Masoli."
That's fair. When quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the team during the offseason, many thought the Ducks’ chances of contending for the national title were no longer an issue. They were still a Pac-10 front-runner, but only by a little. At that point, in fact, most thought senior Nate Costa would win the starting job, not Thomas. But Thomas not only won the job, he gave the Ducks an upgrade at the position. And that has been the key this season.
Thomas and Oregon used the Ducks’ explosive, high-tempo, spread-option offense to wear down foes. They've outscored opponents by nearly 31 points a game this year. Only one team, California, came within single digits of the Ducks.
The Ducks made their first national statement with a blowout win at Tennessee, but their overwhelming 52-31 victory over Stanford proved to be a signature victory, one that grew in stature as the year went on because it would be the Cardinal's only defeat. The Ducks trailed 21-3, but then exploded and ran away with the game.
Oregon has owned the second half this season, outscoring foes 277-77, and it's yielded just 24 fourth-quarter points. The underrated defense is ranked 14th in the nation in scoring.
Auburn take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Outside of Florida and the junior college ranks, nobody really knew who Cam Newton was when Auburn opened preseason practice back in August. Even the Tigers’ coaches weren’t completely sure what they had.
Everybody knows now.
Newton, who started his career at Florida and then detoured through Blinn College, was the driving force in leading the Tigers (13-0) to their first-ever appearance in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. The front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy, Newton passed for 28 touchdowns and ran for 20 touchdowns, taking turns beating teams with his arm and his legs.
He’s coming off an MVP performance in the SEC championship game where he threw four touchdown passes and ran for two more in Auburn’s 56-17 dismantling of South Carolina. In his last five games, he’s thrown 15 touchdown passes and just one interception.
Auburn has been comfortable outscoring teams all season. The Tigers are sixth nationally in scoring offense, averaging 42.7 points per game.
Their defense has been vulnerable against the pass, as evidenced by the fact that they rank 105th nationally in pass defense. But those numbers are deceiving, because the Tigers have made a living out of coming up with key stops and forcing turnovers in the second half. In their last two games against South Carolina and Alabama, they've given up a total of two field goals in the second half.