Let’s assume that Cam Newton’s innocent for a second and talk football.
Coming into the season, Nebraska was ranked No. 8 in the initial AP poll while Auburn snuck in at No. 22.
It’s nearing mid-November and in the most important poll, the BCS, the Tigers are ranked No. 2 while the Cornhuskers actually fell one spot to No. 8 last week.
For Auburn (10-0, 6-0 SEC) to reach the BCS National Championship game, it’s quite simple: Win.
No more losses and the Tigers are essentially guaranteed an opportunity to play for the crystal football.
For Nebraska (8-1, 4-1 Big 12), a crate of Les Miles-grade grass needs to be chewed for luck.
No. 7 Wisconsin needs to lose, as does No. 5 LSU and especially No. 1 Oregon. Nebraska needs No. 6 Stanford and No. 3 TCU to either lose or struggle.
Other than that, the Cornhuskers simply need to win their first conference title in 11 years.
Let’s assume that this collegiate catastrophe plays out and see who would be victorious in a championship game featuring Nebraska and Auburn.
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Cam Newton’s a stud.
You know it, we all know it, but let’s talk about why.
Newton has 1,146 yards rushing (6.5 YPC) and is 123-for-185 with 1,890 yards passing with 19 TDs and a TD catch to his credit through ten games.
If Oregon would stop scoring for a minute, Newton's stats would be the apex of production.
Running back Michael Dyer makes life easier for Newton providing 811 yards (6.4 YPC) and 5 TDs thus far.
When Newton throws, Darvin Adams (633 yards, 5 TDs) and Terrell Zachery (462 yards, 3 TDs) are his primary targets.
Considering the production of the Tigers’ offense, Cam will always get his yards, but I dare say that Bo Pelini’s charges could take a bite out of Newton.
More on that later.
This is where things get a little dicey for the Tigers.
Currently ranked 55th overall in scoring defense, Auburn allows 24.3 PPG.
Five of the Tigers’s 10 foes have bested that number.
While Auburn defeated Arkansas and Ole Miss by large margins, the Tigers have shown that a shootout can be forced.
The Tigers are stout against the run surrendering 115 YPG (No. 18 nationally).
It’s the passing game that gives Auburn fits. Ranked No. 95 overall, the Tigers give up 241 YPG.
It’s no wonder Auburn finds themselves in the occasional shootout.
Demond Washington will be your Auburn kick returner for the evening.
Washington’s provides the necessary speed to make any return team dangerous having racked up 806 yards (26.9 YPR, 1 TD, 95-yard long).
Quindarius Carr handles punt returns, but hasn’t seen much action fielding only 18 punts for 116 yards (6.4 YPR, 18-yard long).
Ryan Shoemaker handles punting duties and has a very respectable 38.8 YPP average (51 long, 2 Inside 20).
Wes Byrum takes care of kickoffs and field goals. He averages 65.5 YPK with three touchbacks thus far.
When it comes to field goals, Bryum is 13-18 (48 long, 1 BLK).
He has had an excellent amount of success kicking from 48 yards or less proving to be a cruicial part of the Tigers’ special teams squad.
Gene Chizik’s not doing too badly for himself these days, is he?
Bouncing back from his short stint at Iowa State, Chizik boasts an 18-5 record as Auburn’s head man.
His team’s victory over Northwestern in the 2010 Outback Bowl marked the first time that any Tigers’ head coach claimed a bowl victory during the first year of his tenure.
Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Gus Malzahn has received quite a bit of credit by both peers and college football fans across the country as the mind behind Auburn’s prolific offense.
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Malzahn’s stops at Arkansas, Tulsa and now Auburn have all shown his ability to churn out amazing offensive numbers.
The Tigers’ offense re-wrote the school's record books last year with the most points in a season (433), total yards of offense in a season (5,613), passing touchdowns in a season (25) and plays in a season (914).
Auburn fans, meet Nebraska’s answer to Cam Newton: Taylor “T-Magic” Martinez.
Starting eight games as a redshirt freshman, Martinez has rushed for 886 yards (110.8 YPG, 12 TDs), thrown for 1,161 yards (145.1 YPG, 9 TDs) and has forced opposing defenses to utilize multiple players to contain him.
Martinez isn’t Nebraska’s only weapon.
Roy Helu, Jr. and Rex Burkhead provide the Cornhuskers with an amazingly talented backfield.
Helu, Jr. has tallied 906 yards (100.7 YPG, 9 TDs).
Burkhead has battered his way to 507 yards (63.3 YPG, 5 TDs) from both the standard running back position and taking snaps in the Wildcat formation.
Nebraska’s receivers have been inconsistent, but provide big play potential.
TE Kyler Reed has been the breakout star with 277 yards (27.7 YPC) and four TDs.
The big-bodied Brandon Kinnie (316 yards, 3 TDs) and veteran Niles Paul (384 yards, 1 TD) provide the receivers who garner the most attention.
These stats aren’t eye-popping, but consider that until the Texas game, the Cornhuskers didn’t have much of a necessity to pass due to Martinez and his literal running buddies.
The Cornhuskers miss All-Everything Ndamukong Suh, but what defense wouldn’t?
Nebraska remains salty with their unique 4-2-5 “Peso” defense.
The Blackshirts’ rushing defense has shown the most difficulty adapting to the change giving up 162 YPG (No. 73 nationally).
If a team wants to pass against the Cornhuskers, they need to put in some extra hours figuring out how to do so effectively.
Nebraska’s secondary is one of the nation’s elite allowing only 154 YPG.
This deep group of defenders has 15 INTs turning four of them into TDs. Translation: Pass at your own peril.
The Cornhuskers boast one of the top special teams units in college football.
Most of that is thanks to one man or one foot, at least.
Alex Henery is quite possibly the greatest kicker that Nebraska has ever produced.
That’s saying something considering that the Cornhuskers have NFL alumni such as Kris Brown and Josh Brown.
Henery may very well take the spot as the Cornhuskers’ all-time leading scorer by season’s end handling both field goal (11-12, 52 long) and punting chores for Nebraska (44.6 YPP, 3 TB, 13 Inside 20).
The Cornhuskers take their kickoffs seriously.
Adi Kunalic, a.k.a. the Bosnian Bomber, has one goal: To make sure that the opposing team always starts their possession at their own 20-yard line.
Half of Kunalic’s 62 kickoffs have gone through the back of the end zone, and on average he nails a kickoff about 69 yards.
Returning kickoffs and punts is Niles Paul. Paul has returned 13 kickoffs 325 yards (25 YPR) including a 100-yard return for a TD versus Oklahoma State.
He is not nearly as prolific on punt returns returning 14 for only 160 yards (11.4 YPR).
Bo Pelini has been called many things during his tenure at Nebraska.
Several of them aren’t allowed to be printed in a good majority of public media.
One thing that everyone can agree on is that the third-year Cornhuskers’ head coach is intense.
Mark “Bo” Pelini holds a 28-9 record, has yet to be bested in a bowl game, his players love him, his fans love him and as many t-shirts in Nebraska will tell you: Bo knows defense.
Bo’s older brother Carl holds the official title of defensive coordinator, but the Brothers Pelini are a defensive think-tank.
Other coaches on Nebraska’s staff receive good grades on their report cards, but this duo from Youngstown, Ohio truly believes in the old cliché that “You can’t win if you can’t score.”
Let’s have a look at just who has the edge in this match up.
With Cam Newton, Michael Dyer and a stout offensive line, Auburn gets the nod here as they have more sure-handed receivers and while T-Magic is amazing to watch, he’s no Cam Newton…yet.
Advantage: Cam Newton and 10 other guys
While the defensive line has issues, the Cornhuskers’ linebackers are both physical and fast.
Nebraska has NFL draft picks across the board in the secondary forcing Newton to battle his way for yards on his feet.
Oklahoma State showed the nation that if you force Nebraska to pass, they will and against a poor secondary, they can succeed.
Nebraska has struggled against kick returns, but this problem is nullified when Kunalic kicks the pigskin out of the end zone literally half of the time.
Henery is arguably the best kicker/punter in the country and is an invaluable weapon.
Returners essentially cancel out.
Gene Chizik is quite happy at Auburn and it shows.
With a chance at the BCS National Championship and Cam Newton’s Heisman Trophy bandwagon at full speed, Chizik’s stock is going up at an amazing rate.
Assistants such as Gus Malzahn make his job quite a bit easier.
Chizik needs a playbook that can throw everything including the kitchen sink (and maybe some piping) at Nebraska. Malzahn can make that happen.
If Cam Newton is going to be contained by anyone, it’s a Bo Pelini-led defense.
Pelini is content to let Cam get his eventual rushing yardage because he is going to earn every yard as his defenses are all conditioned to be physical.
Right now, it would appear that Malzahn is the key to Auburn’s success while Bo Pelini is for Nebraska’s.
This isn’t to diminish Chizik’s role at Auburn, but rather to suggest that he hasn’t quite put “his” stamp on the program.
Nebraska football is Bo Pelini football.
Let’s be realistic about this.
Cam Newton is going to get yards versus this defense.
The question is: Can those yards convert to points?
Wes Byrum and Alex Henery would play a key role in this game as the two dynamic quarterbacks in this game are going to be slowed and, at some points, stopped.
Texas showed the ability to sting the Nebraska defense via quarterback roll outs and Cam Newton is a far sight better than Garrett Gilbert.
In this game, you’d likely see quite a bit of blitzing from both the Cornhuskers’ linebackers and secondary.
The trio of Taylor Martinez, Roy Helu, Jr. and Rex Burkhead would all have to sync up well to put up solid rushing yards against the Auburn defense.
This normally would be welcome news for Tiger fans, but Martinez became the first Cornhusker in history to pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 versus Oklahoma State.
A shootout favors the better secondary and while there is physicality on both offenses and throughout the majority of both defenses, Nebraska’s secondary can take advantage of the slightest mistake.
Final score: Nebraska 41 Auburn 34
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