When Oregon takes on Auburn in Glendale, AZ for the National Championship on January 10th, it will be the most unlikely title game we've seen in the history of the BCS.
The Ducks have never won a National Championship, and the Tigers haven't held the title since way back in 1957. Both head coaches are in their second years at their respective programs, and both teams have overcome adversity on their way to the title game.
Oregon started the season by releasing the player who had led them to the Rose Bowl the year before. Chip Kelly let go of their potential Heisman quarterback Jeremiah Masoli after several off-the-field issues and called upon an untested sophomore by the name Darron Thomas to run the show.
Auburn wasn't what you'd call a title contender when the season started either. The Tigers were coming off an 8-5 season and ranked No. 22 to begin the season. Auburn also started the season with a new quarterback in their system, Cam Newton, and I'm sure you all know his story (it's been well documented). Needless to say, he's overcome the odds to get where he's at today.
Since the first week of the season, the Ducks and Tigers have been unstoppable.
The Ducks went 12-0 and led the nation in scoring at 49.3 points per game, while only allowing 18.4. Their offense is not like anything we've ever seen and may very well change the way that college football is played and coached in the future.
Auburn went 13-0 and Cam Newton put together perhaps the greatest single season in college football that we've ever seen. Newton was so unreal that he won the Heisman in a landslide even after all of the recruiting violation talks.
So who has the edge when the two meet on January 10th?
Oregon's offensive line powers the most prolific offense in the entire country. Jordan Holmes anchors a core that accounted for a nation-leading 537.5 yards per game while only allowing quarterback Darron Thomas to be sacked eight times on the season. The Ducks offensive line has been a key to their success all season long.
On the flip side, we have Auburn's defensive line. The Tiger's defensive line was 10th in the nation against the run, and they have a sack machine in Nick Fairley leading their core. Fairley is the biggest threat Oregon's line will have to deal with all year, and he could cause some problems for Oregon if they don't double team him.
There will definitely be a battle in the trenches when Oregon and Auburn square off. The Ducks have been piling up yards all season long, and the Tigers have made their living on defense by stopping the run. So something has got to give.
Oregon's offense plays at a pace that the Tiger's are not accustomed to, and they have tired out every opponent come the second half.
The Ducks were 16th in the nation against the run this year, but Auburn isn't like any other team that Oregon has played against all year.
The average defensive lineman for Oregon is 246 pounds. Cam Newton is 6'6'' and 250 pounds. The Ducks are going to be trying to tackle a quarterback who is actually bigger than them. Auburn's front five also weighs in at an average of 302 pounds...
Auburn's backfield is explosive, and if Oregon can't stop the run or get to the quarterback, then they are going to be in trouble.
Oregon's secondary was one the best in the nation. The Duck's were first in pass efficiency defense (93.3 rating) and were tied for sixth in the country with 20 picks on the season.
The Ducks secondary is led by super sophomores Cliff Harris and John Boyett. Harris was an All-American who picked off five passes on the season and returned one of them for a touchdown. Boyett also had five picks on the season and has made a reputation for himself by leveling anyone who dares to enter his territory.
Auburn's secondary is perhaps their biggest weakness. The Tigers were 75th in pass efficiency defense (132.2 rating). The Tigers have struggled to stop the pass all season long. Oregon runs a lot of misdirection plays in the passing game, and they will likely cause major problems for Auburn's secondary.
For all intents and purposes, you could say that the Ducks secondary is the top in the nation, so this really isn't close.
There is going to be one difference maker on special teams come January 10th, and his name is Cliff Harris.
Harris was the best return man in the country this season. Harris led the nation in punt return touchdowns with four, and he also leads the nation in swagger. Every time Harris gets his hands on the ball you almost expect him to find the seam and break one off for six.
There are a lot of stars playing in the title game, but Harris' star may shine the brightest come Monday night.
The Ducks and Tigers both have very strong and comparable receiving cores. Both programs accounted for 29 touchdowns through the air on the season.
The Tigers' air attack is led by Darvin Adams. Adams accounted for 909 yards to go with his 48 catches and seven touchdowns. Auburn also had major contributions from Terrell Zachary (585 yards) and Emory Blake (seven touchdowns).
Oregon's Jeff Maehl was one of the top receivers in the country this season, and he was the Ducks' go-to guy in the passing game. Maehl had 68 catches for 943 yards and 12 touchdowns. D.J. Davis, David Paulson and Lavasier Tuinei have all played major roles in Oregon's offensive attack. When Oregon's receivers aren't making plays with their hands, they are making crucial blocks down field to spring LaMichael James loose in the running game.
Auburn's receiver's catch passes from the best player in college football, but the Ducks group will be taking on a weak Tigers secondary.
Oregon had the nation's top offense. The Ducks led the country in yards, 537.5, and points, 49.3, per game. Much of Oregon's offensive success came through the running game.
LaMichael James was the best running back in the country this year. The Heisman finalist led the country with 1682 yards on the ground (152.9 yards per game) and he also scored 21 touchdowns. James is deadly in the open field; he can stop and go better than any other back in the country, and he is generally the fastest player on the field. LaMichael is also a stronger running back than he ever gets credit for. He is rarely brought down by one player and constantly plows through players twice his size. He's the greatest weapon in Oregon's arsenal.
Auburn was also great in the ground game this year, but a large part of that was Cameron Newton, and he's not a running back. The Tiger's top running back this season was freshman Michael Dyer. Dyer ran for 950 yards and five touchdowns on the season, truly great numbers for a freshman in the SEC, but he really doesn't match up with James.
The Ducks also have Kenjon Barner, who can come in at any moment and break one for a touchdown. Barner is a great receiver out of the backfield and does a fine role of filling in when James needs a breather. Chip Kelly ran packages that had Barner and James on the field at the same time against Oregon State and will probably feature the two together when they take on Auburn.
Darron Thomas is a fine quarterback, but this really isn't about him.
Cam Newton may very well be the greatest college football player that we've ever seen, period.
Newton can do everything on the field. At 6'6'', 250 pounds, he's basically unstoppable. Newton led the nation in passer rating at 188.2. He threw for 2589 yards, 28 touchdowns and only had six picks. When the Heisman trophy winner wasn't killing everyone with his arm, he was doing it with his legs.
The Auburn quarterback ran for 1409 yards and 20 touchdowns. He ran for over 170 yards in five different games this year breaking a school record once held by Bo Jackson. That's right, Bo Jackson.
What's been even more impressive is how Newton has performed in pressure situations. All season long he has had to play under media scrutiny pertaining to his father's involvement in a recruiting scandal. He also came up big when Auburn found themselves down 21-0 against defending champs, Alabama. Newton led the Tigers back and eventually won 28-27 in Alabama.
There simply isn't anything that he can't do on the football field. He's a dual threat unlike anything that we've ever seen before at the college level. If Auburn is to win the title, you can count on Cam Newton having one of the more historic games we'll ever see.
Chip Kelly and Gene Chizik have both done remarkable jobs in their second year at their programs.
With all due respect to Mr. Chizik, he's been great, but Chip Kelly has been unbelievable.
Chip Kelly is going to change the way that the game of college football is played. Oregon's spread offense is revolutionary and unstoppable. The Ducks' no huddle "balls to the walls" offense has been their bread and butter all year. So many of their plays look the same, yet they are all different, and since they don't huddle, the other team doesn't have time to make any adjustments, unless, of course, they fake an injury.
The Ducks' coaching staff has also done an amazing job of making adjustments at halftime. I don't know how many Oregon games were close going into the half this year, but most of them ended with the Ducks winning by 20 plus, and all of that can be attributed to the adjustments that Kelly and his staff make.
The man is a football genius, and it is Kelly's leadership that has brought the Ducks where they are today.
As a team, the Oregon Ducks are a better program. The Ducks are deeper at most positions and are coached better than any team in the country. BUT the Auburn Tigers have the greatest college football player of all time in Cam Newton.
We can expect both teams to put up huge numbers and score a lot of points, but the game will ultimately come down to whose defense can stop the other's offense. Will Auburn be able to slow down Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and the Oregon spread? And will Oregon be the first team to have an answer for Cam Newton and everything that he brings to the table?
Edge: You'll have to watch the game.