— Let your imagination soar. OK, that’s too conservative. Think bigger — much bigger.
Combined points: At least 100.
Combined yardage: More than 1,000.
The potential numbers are staggering. It hardly seems fair that everyone’s excitement must remain on simmer until Jan. 10 to witness the BCS Championship Game between the No. 1 Auburn Tigers (13-0) and No. 2 Oregon Ducks (12-0).
In the history of college football, Auburn and Oregon never have played. What a time for the first meeting.
We can’t wait.
That preseason pick of Alabama vs. Ohio State disappeared pretty quickly, didn’t it? That thought of the Pac-10 having no realistic national-title hopes seems silly now. The idea of someone upstaging the SEC’s opportunity of winning a fifth straight national championship couldn’t have been serious.
It’s Auburn, with the head coach no one wanted (Gene Chizik), against Oregon, with the head coach no one can figure out (Chip Kelly).
“It will be a heck of a game,’’ said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, in the aftermath of Saturday’s 56-17 scalding by Auburn. “Might be 60 to 55, something like that.’’
Yeah, something like that.
Oregon State really clamped down on Oregon, limiting the Ducks to a mere 37 points on Saturday. So Oregon’s No. 1-ranked offense will head to the title game averaging a mere 49.3 points. Auburn, meanwhile, putters into the game averaging just 42.7 points (but it has scored 49 or more in four of its last five games and the Tigers were hardly slackers in rallying past Alabama 28-27).
It’s the Heisman Trophy favorite, Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, and his vapor trail of controversy, against Oregon’s practically-point-a-minute operation, paced by power-speed back LaMichael James.
It’s two of the nation’s spread-offense gurus, perhaps the two most innovative minds in college football — Kelly and Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.
It’s East vs. West — the SEC against the Pac-10, the first time that matchup has ever come into play for a national-title game.
It’s Auburn, finally stepping from the shadow of its big brother, Alabama, no stranger to the national-championship run. It’s Oregon, stepping from an even bigger shadow in the Pac-10, the one cast by USC, which has been sidelined by probation.
Regardless of who wins this classic-in-the-making, it will be a moment long awaited.
Auburn twice had unbeaten teams (1957, 1993) that couldn’t be considered for the national title due to probation. The 1957 team, in fact, finished No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. And in 2004, Auburn finished as an unbeaten SEC champion, but could only watch as unbeaten USC and unbeaten Oklahoma squared off in the BCS title game.
In 2001, once-beaten Oregon won the Pac-10 and finished No. 2 in the final AP poll. The Ducks were not selected to the BCS title game, losing out by decimal points to a once-beaten Nebraska team that failed to reach the Big 12 championship game. Then-Oregon coach Mike Bellotti likened the BCS format to “a disease, like cancer.’’
Have the most promising teams in Auburn and Oregon history endured bitter feelings?
Can Auburn and Oregon bury that star-crossed past, once and for all?
There is another unbeaten team out there, of course, the TCU Horned Frogs (12-0). And you can’t disparage what TCU has accomplished with back-to-back unbeaten seasons. There is also run-it-up Wisconsin (11-1) and wonderfully entertaining Stanford (11-1).
But given this imperfect BCS format, there is no question that the correct two teams are playing in the title game.
Auburn not only went unbeaten in the SEC, it weathered the competition in what might be the finest division in college football, the SEC West.
Oregon had a major scare against California, winning 15-13, but otherwise rolled past Pac-10 competition by an average of 24.3 points.
Now we all know that these mega-team vs. mega-team matchups in the BCS Championship Game can sometimes devolve into a Super Bowl-like mismatch. Two heavyweights take the ring, somebody throws the first punch and it’s over.
That happened in 2005 with USC-Oklahoma (Trojans win 55-19).
I’m more apt to see Auburn-Oregon along the likes of the Texas-USC Rose Bowl in 2006, the Vince Young-Matt Leinart game that wouldn’t quit, the 41-38 Longhorn victory.
Neither Auburn nor Oregon plays much defense. So look for Cameron Newton and Darron Thomas, the Oregon quarterback, to hold court all night.
Meanwhile, expect Chizik and Kelly to enjoy the stage.
Chizik, was the Texas defensive coordinator when the Longhorns defeated USC, one of the nation’s hottest assistant coaches. He jumped to Iowa State — an ill-advised decision, even though he would never admit it — and slumbered to a 5-19 mark with the Cyclones. When he was brought back as head coach to Auburn, another place where he served as defensive coordinator, the fans howled.
Some even accused Auburn of racism as it passed over Turner Gill.
Where are the howls now?
Kelly, who made a name for himself with space-age offense at New Hampshire (you heard that correctly), became Mike Bellotti’s apprentice at Oregon. Immediately, Kelly’s resolve was tested last season in his first game as head coach when running back LeGarrette Blount punched a Boise State player in the game’s aftermath.
Kelly’s action was swift and decisive. Blount sat for most of the season.
When Jeremiah Masoli, the quarterback of Oregon’s Rose Bowl team, pled guilty to burglary in the offseason, Kelly again moved swiftly and decisively. Masoli was kicked off the team.
Auburn and Oregon have distinctive head coaches and distinctive identities.
Not only is it a great matchup, it’s the right matchup.
And if you like offense, it’s college football nirvana.
Let your imagination soar.