The BCS National Championship took 36 days to arrive. Auburn and Oregon were slated to light up the scoreboard with at least 40 points apiece. The excitement and anticipation was not only felt from the two fan bases involved, but this game was perhaps the hottest ticket of any college football game ever.
If you were lucky enough to attend the spectacle Monday night in Glendale, the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl appreciates the donation of $3,000 a pop. However, fans were left waiting, and waiting, for the fireworks and scoring to show up.
In a game that most expected to be a shootout, or a “sprint” as Brent Musburger repeated nearly the entire night, the product on the field looked more like a cross-country track meet.
During the first quarter, both teams were running around and displaying their team speed, but neither team could find the end zone. Fans were left waiting for the onslaught of scoring to come, at some point.
But as the game unfolded, it was clear that both defenses knew exactly what the opposing offenses wanted to do.
Auburn clearly had the best player on the field Monday night, but it was not the Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton.
Nick Fairley, Auburn’s stud defensive tackle, played the national championship in Oregon’s backfield the entire night. Fairley came up with big plays in big situations in the biggest game in Auburn’s history, and each time, Fairley’s name was saluted following each triumphant stop.
When Oregon looked poised to grab the lead and put even more pressure on Cam Newton and Auburn’s offense, the Tigers defense made the sure tackle, the key touchdown saving trip-up or big No. 90 clogged the middle of the line to send the Ducks back to the sideline.
Auburn honed in on the Oregon ground attack and left the Ducks wondering what had happened. After an entire season of depleting opposing defenses to the tune of 303 yards rushing, Oregon managed only 75 rushing yards in the National Championship.
Oregon wanted to perform a similar task in neutralizing Cam Newton and the Auburn running attack. Nick Aliotti and the Oregon Ducks had a solid gameplan defensively. But when called upon to make the big stop in a crucial situation, the Ducks fluttered and could not wrap up the Tigers.
Although Newton did not have his typical Heisman-esque performance of running, passing and catching a touchdown, his 329 total yards and two touchdowns were enough to secure the victory for “War Eagle.”
The Ducks flew around and matched Auburn’s Southeastern Conference mentality and toughness, but it wasn’t enough.
When Newton was feeling the pain of Casey Matthews, John Boyett and Kenny Rowe early and often, the Tigers turned to their true freshman running back, Michael Dyer.
Dyer kept playing, even when everyone else on the field stopped. Knowledgeably, or lucky enough to be close to the Auburn sideline, Dyer followed instruction and continued racing down the field until a whistle was blown.
At that point, with Dyer and Fairley stealing the spotlight from Oregon’s LaMichael James and Auburn’s Newton, the game was over.
The only decision left to make was opting for the easy field goal or letting Cam Newton plunge into the end zone for one more rushing touchdown to add to his season total. Even at the end, Newton was stuffed from the 1-yard line.
In the end, a field goal was the difference between the SEC and the Pac-10.
The SEC versus the Pac-10 talk came hard and heavy before, during and after the game. Yet, the SEC has now won five straight BCS National Championships.
Oregon didn’t play their best game of the season, which can be attributed to Auburn’s defensive stallworth, but Chip Kelly and Oregon still brought their bag of tricks to the party.
Even a two-point conversion and fake punt could not salvage the Ducks’ hope against Auburn.
This time around, Auburn and the SEC had the better team on the field, but the Pac-10, or soon to be Pac-12, will be alive and well anticipating next year’s national championship.
In past years, many pundits believed that the Pac-10 was a conference comprised of USC and nine other scrubs. Oregon and Stanford proved this season that there is more to the Pac-10 than just the tradition-rich USC Trojans.
With the Pac-12 beginning next fall, Chip Kelly will have his Ducks revitalized and determined to get back to the BCS Championship in 2012. Stanford will not be falling from grace with Andrew Luck returning to wrap his hands around the Heisman and smell the roses before cementing his legacy in Palo Alto.
Even the conference’s depth is catching up behind Oregon, Stanford and, of course, USC. Auburn was a surprise to be even considered for the national championship, but Cam Newton changed everything for the Tigers and the entire SEC.
In the inaugural season of the Pac-12, it would only be fitting that the SEC no longer carries the crown as college football’s premiere conference. However, as the Ducks found out the hard way, someone will have to step up and rip that title from the SEC’s grasp.