Bowl Predictions: 6 Reasons Why Oregon Should Fear the Auburn Tigers
Of course, Auburn has the unfinished business of playing No. 16 South Carolina.
Of course, Steve Spurrier has lost to the same foe twice in a season only once—to an Alabama team that won the national title in 1992.
Of course. it won't be easy. Auburn has to stop star freshman RB Marcus Lattimore.
Of course, Auburn won't have the benefit of playing at home.
So, were South Carolina to upset Auburn in the Georgia Dome, it wouldn't be that big of a surprise. I have South Carolina pegged to make a return trip to the SEC title game next season.
But, we are going to proceed under the assumption that Auburn does eke it out against South Carolina and analyze what gives them a real chance against Oregon.
Yes, Oregon is favored and is the better team—see their demolition of 6-6 Tennessee in Neyland, the Volunteers' biggest loss in that stadium ever—and as such is more likely to win.
However, the best team doesn't always win. So this is what gives Auburn a shot.
Auburn Is a Very Good Football Team!
Hey, amazing, groundbreaking, earth-shattering.
Original analysis there, right?
But still, consider what it means.
Teams don't go 13-0 by accident, and Auburn didn't exactly get there by playing Pop Warner football teams.
This is a good football squad, folks, with a lot of talented players who were recruited by and would be starting for almost any other team in any Top 25.
This team is well-coached, doesn't make many mistakes, and is capable of making big, momentum-changing plays at any time.
They have only played 2 "bad" games this season—the second half against an 8-4 Mississippi State team when offense struggled in the second half. And when they fell asleep against 6-6 Kentucky, allowing the Wildcats to get back into the game and nearly steal a win.
Now, is Auburn as good, or playing as well, as is Oregon? No.
But that isn't the point.
The point is that while Oregon is clearly better, Auburn is still a good enough football team to have a legitimate chance to outplay and beat Oregon "on any given day."
They don't need injuries, good luck, or Oregon to play poorly for it to happen.
Auburn is Battle-Tested
No, this is not another "the SEC is the greatest conference ever" or "the Pac-10 stinks!" trash-talking.
But the facts are facts—where the SEC has SIX teams ranked in the BCS. The Pac-10 has TWO.
Oregon has only played against ONE team with more than seven wins—Stanford.
That doesn't make Oregon a fraud—there are a lot of good teams in the Pac-10. They just beat each other up.
Nevertheless, Auburn will be much better prepared for a high-stakes game against top competition than Oregon because they've had to play very tough Mississippi State, South Carolina, Alabama, LSU and Arkansas teams.
Even if you feel that Stanford is better than all those teams, it was still only one game that Oregon had to get up for.
I won't say that Auburn has been tested every week because they did play Ole Miss, Chattanooga, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe. But they have been tested MORE.
Auburn is more accustomed to playing teams that can match up to them physically, and they are better able to react to the emotional highs and lows—remember what Auburn endured in Tuscaloosa,
Playing Alabama—the defending national champs—before 107,000 screaming fans, the Tigers got whipped on both sides of the ball by a team filled with future NFL starters for two quarters.
Oregon hasn't seen anything like that this season, and won't until the BCS title game.
Auburn has seen it against Alabama, Arkansas and LSU.
Now don't get me wrong—Oregon can, and probably will, overcome this. But the very fact that they even have to gives Auburn a shot.
Auburn's Defense isn't as Bad as Advertised
Yes, Auburn's defense is not of normal SEC caliber.
As a matter of fact, no SEC national title contender has had a defense this bad since the Florida Gators got hammered 62-24 by Nebraska.
But look a bit deeper—while the Tigers give up a lot of points and yards ON AVERAGE, the truth is that, on a game-by-game basis, it isn't as if they've been getting torched.
Moreover, there was a LOT of offensive talent in the SEC this season.
Yet only in the complete meltdown against Arkansas did Auburn fail to limit the opposing offense to a reasonable amount of points.
So, it isn't like Auburn's been giving up 35 points a game.
Instead of trying to shut teams down, Auburn focuses on keeping teams in a position where their offense can outscore them. Only four teams have reached 30 points against Auburn.
Two of those—Kentucky and Ole Miss—were in games where Auburn got out to a huge lead and basically stopped playing.
Truthfully, the only bad thing about Auburn's defense is their PASS DEFENSE.
Their defensive line is actually one of the better ones in the country—easily the best Oregon will see all year—and their LBs are pretty good.
Their run defense is VERY GOOD. Oregon, lest we forget, is an option-oriented running team.
As highly as I regard Darron Thomas, he isn't going to do to the Auburn secondary what Steve Garcia, Aaron Murray, Greg McElroy and the Arkansas QBs did because he isn't that type of player.
And no, Jeff Maehl and the Oregon WRs aren't nearly as talented as are the future NFL first-round draft picks like Alshon Jeffrey, Julio Jones and A.J. Green.
If Auburn's front seven shuts down Oregon's option the way that Ohio State's front seven did in the Rose Bowl, then Darron Thomas and those Oregon WRs will have to win the game through the air.
Now Thomas is a much better passer than is Jeremiah Masoli so it doesn't guarantee Auburn a victory. But, it gives them a real shot at the upset.
Oregon Defense: Not as Good as You Think
Don't get me wrong: A talented, fast and opportunistic defense led by Cliff Harris is by no means a BAD defense.
It just won't be the best defense that Auburn has played this year.
Sorry, that would be LSU or Alabama.
Auburn was able to move the ball and score points against those teams.
So, the question isn't WILL Auburn will get into the high 20s or low 30s against that Oregon defense. But WILL that be enough?
One matchup that favors Auburn—their huge offensive line against Oregon's fast, but small, front seven.
Again, go back to the Ohio State game last year.
Oregon's front seven was able to find gaps and/or get around Ohio State's OL to make a lot of sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
When that didn't happen, however, Ohio State manhandled the Ducks up front, especially when they ran right at them.
Ohio State's coaches were wise enough not to try to run right at Oregon all game long, so they tried different things to keep Oregon's defense honest. But they were effective, running right at Oregon and stealing a victory from the heavily-favored Ducks.
While Onterrio McCalebb is more of an outside runner, Michael Dyer and Cameron Newton can run well enough behind Auburn's offensive interior to give them a shot at replicating Ohio State's successful game plan from last season.
Now it is true that Auburn went into their infamous 2003 meltdown against USC bragging about how their dominant offensive line was going to flatten the USC defense. But USC was bigger and more talented up front in 2003 than Oregon in 2010.
Gene Chizik was on the Auburn staff for that nightmare game and—I'm sure—learned plenty from it.
Oregon Doesn't Have as Big a Coaching Advantage as They Believe!
Oregon fans insist that Chip Kelly is the best coach in the country.
That may be true, but Gene Chizik is plenty accomplished in his own right.
Chizik has learned from the best. Big names like Bill "Brother" Oliver, Tony Dungy, Lovie Smith, Monte Kiffin and Tommy Tuberville.
As a result, Chizik was the defensive coordinator whose blitzes, coverage schemes and adjustments led Auburn to a 13-0 record in 2004, Texas to a 13-0 record in 2005 and an upset of Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, LenDale White and the USC Trojans in the '05 National Title game.
That 2005 game on USC's turf demonstrated that Chizik's defenses can win games not just by shutting opponents' down, but by making timely stops and big plays that swing momentum.
Oregon had better not presume that just because they are moving the ball at will against Auburn that they are going to win. Chizik and his defenses have been there before.
Chizik uses NFL-style adjustments that adapt to what the offense is doing. His best attribute is that, during the game, he analyzes what gives his team the best chance to win and implements it—not just at halftime, but in the middle of quarters.
Chizik seldom comes up with anything that his talent is incapable of executing. He doesn't ask his LBs to be Dick Butkus or his DBs to be John Lynch.
And lest you believe that this will merely be a matchup between a top defensive coach in Gene Chizik and an innovative offensive coach in Chip Kelly. There is a wild card—Gus Malzahn.
Malzahn was a legendary high school coach in Arkansas and basically saved Houston Nutt's career by creating the much-emulated Wildcat Offense for Darren McFadden.
After leaving Arkansas, Malzahn went to Tulsa to serve as co-coordinator, and the Golden Hurricanes had the nation's second-best running game the two seasons that he was there.
With Cameron Newton, Michael Dyer and Onterrio McCalebb and a fleet of big, fast WRs, Auburn basically runs a full-blown version of the Wildcat rather than the limited version that you see when a team inserts a tailback or wide receiver under center.
While Auburn has a dominating rushing game, Malzahn states that Auburn has barely scratched the surface in their passing game.
You had better believe that Auburn is going to work plenty on their passing game as part of their bowl game preparation. Malzahn is a future head coach and will get to match his wits with the savvy play-caller of Oregon's defense, Nick Aliotti.
This being said, the weak link on Auburn's staff is defensive coordinator Ted Roof, infamous for terrible defenses at Georgia Tech and Minnesota, as well as for a jaw-dropping record of futility as Duke's head football coach.
Make no mistake, Roof was hired primarily to recruit the state of Georgia.
This is Gene Chizik's defense.
This staff gives Auburn a real chance against Oregon despite their talent and experience.
Oregon: Their Fast Pace Has a Downside
You may wonder why that picture of Loyola Marymount star Bo Kimble is included above.
In the 1980s, Kimble was part of a college basketball team that had a very entertaining, high-scoring fast-break style, and recruited very good athletes for that scheme.
Get into a run-and-gun contest with Marymount meant losing.
So, how to beat them?
Simple—get them into a half-court contest and force them to play conventional basketball.
Teams who did that had a good shot against Loyola Marymount, Despite all their talent and their regular season blowouts, they never had much NCAA tournament success against good, well-coached teams that were able to prevent Marymount from getting into their run-and-gun style.
One more time—stopping LMU meant stopping their frenetic pace and forcing them into a half-court game.
If Oregon thinks that they are going to roll up the scoreboard against Auburn the way that they have been doing to the 7-5 and 5-7 teams this season simply because Auburn has a bad defense, they are mistaken.
The truth is that national title game beatdowns like Nebraska-Florida (62-24), Florida-FSU (52-17) and USC-Oklahoma (55-19) are the exception, not the norm.
More to the point, when they happen, it's usually because of a dominant DEFENSE, not a "name your score" offense.
In national title games, you are playing against the best of the best. Opposing coaches have had three weeks to analyze game film and put in a strategy.
Slowing Oregon down won't require the "fake injuries" that Cal employed. Instead, Auburn has the talent in the front seven to force three-and-outs and do what is necessary to hold Oregon below 35, or possibly 28, points.
Oregon's tiring Auburn out with their fast pace is unlikely to happen.
Oregon is going to have to play like a more conventional team at times in order to win this game.
Can they do it?—Yes.
But it won't be easy, and that may give Auburn what they need to pull out an upset.
Auburn Doesn't Play Fair!
Why is Louis Gossett, Jr. in this, and how does he relate?
Well, it reminds me of this anti-hero character that Gossett played in a western—
One character: "You shot that man in the back!"
Gossett, Jr. replied, "Well, his back was to me!"
Of all the programs in the SEC, Auburn is the most hated for their notorious "anything to win" tactics.
This is a team filled with mean, nasty and dirty cheap-shot artists who will do anything and everything to get inside your head.
If Oregon loses their composure, they will lose the game, Just as Georgia did.
Auburn couldn't cover A.J. Green downfield, and QB Aaron Murray was playing an outstanding game.
Auburn proceeded to hammer Murray with a series of questionable—and a few blatantly-late—hits.
Murray began to get rid of the ball more quickly and misfired.
Georgia's players broke down mentally, and the result was an Auburn rout in the second half.
That's not all—Auburn is known for their ability to knock a quarterback out of the game. Just ask Arkansas' Ryan Mallett or Alabama's Greg McElroy.
From the Cam Newton recruiting scandal, to Newton's appalling, choreographed theatrics, to Nick Fairley's headhunting makes Auburn the team that everyone loves to hate, like the Miami Hurricanes of the 1980s and Nebraska of the 1990s.
Auburn is motivated by their inferiority complex against the other SEC teams than anything else—a complex that surpasses any ill-feelings Oregon may have toward Washington, USC or Oregon State.
This is their one shot, and they are not going to have any restraint in taking it.
Presuming Auburn beats South Carolina, Oregon will unmistakably learn the meaning of the phrase "dirty south."
Yes, Oregon is still favored, but Auburn's dirty tactics give them a shot.
Bottom line—Oregon is favored to win, will likely win, and will contend for future titles as well, especially if LaMichael James returns for his redshirt junior and senior seasons.
Particularly if Chip Kelly continues to out-recruit Mike Bellotti.
If what is expected to happen does happen, then outstanding for Oregon.
They will deserve it. The way that they have steamrolled their opponents should have them in the discussion of "all-time teams."
Oregon can—and probably will—get it done.
But don't think that it will be easy, Duck fans! Not for a minute!