— BCS BOWLS
BCS Title game (1/10): No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Oregon
At Glendale, Ariz.
8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Series history: First meeting
Bowl history: Auburn 20-13-2 (Most recent: Defeated Northwestern 38-35 in OT in '10 Outback); Oregon 9-14 (Most recent: Lost to Ohio St. 26-17 in '10 Rose)
Opening point spread: Auburn by 3
Outlook: Not only does this mark the first time that either the Tigers or Ducks will play for the Bowl Championship Series crystal football, it’s amazingly also the first instance of an SEC team going head-to-head against a Pac-10 team in any BCS game.
After 13 years and 57 games, it’s about time ... and it should be worth the wait.
Auburn (13-0, 9-0 in SEC) averages a whopping 42.7 points and 497.7 yards per game, but that still trails Oregon (12-0, 9-0 in Pac-10), which is posting 49.3 points and 537.5 yards per outing, while winning by an average of 30.9 points.
The Tiger talisman is clearly quarterback Cam Newton, who has turned college football on its ear. No one on the Auburn schedule has been able to deal with his superb dual-threat abilities, but the Ducks won’t be backing down.
Oregon’s defensive line is an active bunch and coordinator Nick Aliotti supports that front with a variety of creative pressure packages. The key will be to display enough wrinkles throughout all four quarters to keep Newton guessing on the key downs.
Newton isn’t immune to a slow start, but during those outings, his supreme athleticism always bubbled to the surface and he found his rhythm.
If and when the Ducks can force the Tiger punt team into action, Auburn fans will be holding their breath. The Tigers rank last in the SEC and 92nd nationally in net punting (34.7). That doesn’t match up well against an Oregon team that leads the nation in punt returns (18.2) and has taken five back to the house in 2010.
Auburn’s defensive front can be equally disruptive as Oregon’s, but its success is closely tied to one player in particular.
Defensive tackles don’t come more dominant than Tiger junior Nick Fairley. But if he can’t spearhead a sustained charge into the face of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, Auburn’s pass defense, which ranks way down at 105th nationally (250.5 passing yards allowed per game), will get exploited.
We’re confident that the running component of Chip Kelly’s spread attack can be tooled to effectively neutralize Fairley. And even if it doesn’t, the ridiculous speed with which the Ducks run their offense will test the depth of the Tiger defense as the game moves toward its conclusion.
After learning valuable lessons from last season’s 26-17 loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, Oregon will approach the long layoff and bowl preparations more effectively.
It’s not easy to pick against a team from a league that has won the last four BCS titles and is a perfect 6-0 when the crystal football is on the line, but the Tigers, who trailed in eight games this season, won’t be able to stage a second-half comeback against the Ducks, who have been devastating after the intermission.
Pick: Oregon 38-31