Auburn Tigers vs. Oregon Ducks
Glendale, Ariz., U. of Phoenix Stadium
Monday, January 10, 2011 8:30 PM ET ESPN
Laying the scene
All the dust has settled on the 2010 college football season save for one more game, and it promises to be a good one as Oregon and Auburn square off to decide the national championship in the desert. Both teams are similar in that their respective offenses can move at the speed of light and score touchdowns in the blink of an eye. Oregon has been most known for this trait, but Auburn moves its offense at a quick pace as well behind Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton. Perhaps most promising is the way that these teams play in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter. If this game is at all close after three quarters...oh, boy.
What Auburn has to do to win
Clearly, Cam Newton is a going to be a big part of Auburn's success in the title game. Newton is the team's leading rusher with 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns, and has passed for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns with just six interceptions. He leads the nation in passing efficiency with a 188.2 quarterback rating, ahead of Kellen Moore of Boise State and Andrew Luck of Stanford, generally considered two of the top passing quarterbacks in the country. He's faced plenty of athletic defenses in the SEC, but the Oregon defense that is so well-conditioned and fast and could give Newton a little more trouble than he's used to. Help from Onterio McCalebb and Michael Dyer on the ground would be big in freeing up Newton a bit.
The Auburn front seven is solid. The Tigers are ranked 10th in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 111.7 yards per game on the ground and are among the leaders in tackles for loss, but they are near the bottom of the FBS in pass defense, allowing 250.5 yards per game. The Tigers' struggles in the secondary have been well-documented this season, but they have had their bright spots as well. The Tigers held Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy to 63 yards in the second half after he passed for 314 yards in the first half of Auburn's come from behind win over the Tide. The front seven will be key to shutting down the Ducks' dynamic running game, but the secondary needs to find a way to keep Oregon from moving the ball through the air, where they can do some damage despite an average of just 233.7 yards per game.
What Oregon has to do to win
Don't get comfortable. It seems silly to even suggest that a team that averages just under 50 points a game avoid getting complacent no matter their lead, but Auburn, whose offense averages 42.7 points per game, has made a season of coming from behind to grab close, nail-biter wins. Eight of the Tigers' 13 victories this season have required Auburn to come from behind, and in four instances they were down by a double-digit margin. Nobody in the country can jam on the gas pedal like the Ducks, and they'll need to keep it up all game to keep the Tigers at bay.
Defensively, third downs will be key. Auburn has converted 53.1% of third downs, the third best conversion percentage in the country behind Stanford and Nevada. They haven't seen many third downs, however, with just 145 third down attempts all season, tied for the second fewest in the country behind Ohio State's 144. Oregon has seen success forcing fourth downs, though; the Ducks are tied for ninth in the country in third down conversion defense (33.5%). The battle on third down could have a major influence on the outcome of this game before all's said and done.
This is one of the hardest BCS National Championship matchups to call, as both teams are similar in several ways and have been dominant in their own unique way on a consistent basis. Oregon has blown teams out of the water this season, but mounted a major comeback against Stanford to keep their perfect season alive in early October. They also have a bit of experience in a hard-fought, drag-out battle, as Cal took them to the wire in a 15-13 Ducks victory. Nobody has owned close games like the Auburn Tigers, though. Their defense has put them in holes and ranks 54th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 24.5 points per game and 55th in total defense, allowing 362.2 yards per game.
The Tigers have faced some good offenses in the SEC, but are yet to face one quite on par with Oregon. They'll watch tape and prepare, but may have trouble keeping them out of the end zone. The Tigers allowed 43 points to Arkansas, the eighth-ranked offense in the country, and had to rely on their offense to score 65 to come away with the victory. Oregon's defense is much more capable than Arkansas', and should be able to keep Newton and the offense from scoring a ton. Ducks win. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
What more appropriate time than Bowl Season to find out what our readers think about a Playoff system rather than the BCS system we have now. We'd like to know what you think.
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