Posted by: mdegeorge | January 9, 2011

Bowl Bonanza Picks: BCS National Championship Game

The long-awaited BCS National Championship is almost upon us to close this month-long festival of college football.

So without further adieu, here’s the way I see the National title tilt shaking out.

Oregon offense vs. Auburn defense: The Oregon offense is possibly the most talked about unit this fall that isn’t attached to Brett Favre. The Ducks have shed their point-per-minute pace of the early season, but still have hung on to lead the nation in scoring by averaging 49.3 points per game. They’re lead by the fourth most potent rushing offense in the country which amassed 303 yards per game, led by LaMichael James’ 1,682 yards and 28 touchdowns. All the emphasis on James means the season turned in by quarterback Darron Thomas (2,768 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions) has flown under the radar. He’ll be under constant duress from blue-chip defensive lineman Nick Fairley, who has 10.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss this year. It’ll be interesting to see to what extent the Tigers’ defense is able to neutralize the pass threat with Fairley and cornerback Neiko Thorpe. In all likelihood, the Ducks will need to use the run to set up the pass. The small, lightning quick backs of the Ducks should still have success, though the Tigers’ speedy front has allowed just 16 scores on the ground this season and should pretty effectively hem in the run option of Thomas. Even with the team speed bias toward the SEC, the Ducks still get the edge here. Advantage: Oregon

Auburn offense vs. Oregon defense: For all the talk of the Ducks’ vaunted offensive unit, their defense has gotten relatively little pub. They have forced 36 turnovers and hold a plus-13 turnover margin, led by five interceptions each by John Boyett and Cliff Harris. Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton threw just six interceptions all season against 28 touchdowns in leading the fourth-highest scoring offense in the nation (42.7 points per game). Most of that has been on the ground, with the combination of Newton (1,409 yards) and Michael Dyer (950 yards) amassing an average of 287 yards per game. Newton has also proven he can take hits, having been sacked 21 times this season and repeatedly lowering his shoulder and delivering blows to myriad defenders standing gingerly in his way. Stylistically, the run-pass option is different from what most of Oregon’s opponents have run this season, though they do see it in practice thanks to Thomas and James. Advantage: Auburn

Special Teams: The gamebreaker could be Harris, who has returned four punts for touchdowns this season. Back-up running back Kenjon Barner has also returned a punt for a score. The challenge will be for Ryan Shoemaker (39.0 yards per kick) and the Auburn punt unit to keep the ball away from Harris at all costs. The Auburn return unit has been almost non-existent on punts and kicks. Both placekickers are solid but unspectacular. Auburn’s Wes Byrum is 15-20 this season on field goals with a long of 48. The senior missed only one extra point in 71 attempts, but he missed the only field goal he attempted in the SEC Championship game against South Carolina, a 36-yarder, and hasn’t made a kick since Oct. 30 against Ole Miss. Rob Beard is a sophomore who is 9-12 this season, but has only hit two kicks longer than 40 yards. If push comes to shove, both offensive coordinators will probably opt to go for it on fourth down than allow their kickers to decide it. Byrum gets the edge in the kicking game, but the imminent threat of the Ducks’ return men gives them the edge. Advantage: Oregon

Intangibles: SEC teams are 6-0 in BCS National Championship games over the last 13 seasons. None of those wins, however, came over Pac 10 teams, and Oregon is the first Pac 10 team other than USC to make the title game. One commonality between those previous six teams is that with the exception of Alabama last season, all had a quarterback adept at creating with his feet (Tee Martin with Tennessee in 1998, Matt Flynn and, to a lesser extent, Matt Mauck with LSU in 2007 and 2003, respectively, and Tim Tebow’s Florida teams in 2006 and 2008). Auburn is 2-0 all-time in Bowls against Oregon. Both coaches, Gene Chizik and Chip Kelly, are in their second seasons with their respective teams; Chizik has the experience advantage thanks to two disastrous seasons spent at the helm of Iowa State. Auburn has cancelled classes and viewing parties at the university tomorrow as well as most of the official viewing events due to freezing rain and sleet pounding the deep South. Oregon has Nike’s billions behind it, while Auburn appears to be schilling for Under Armor. The Tigers still carry a chip on their shoulders from being snubbed from that 2004 title game despite a 12-0 regular season. Advantage: Auburn.

The Verdict: Harris could turn into the game-changer on defense or special teams if Auburn isn’t careful. But the Ducks defense just hasn’t seen an offense like this that can so effectively run the ball to set up the pass. The West Coast offenses they have encountered are like high-powered sports cars; the Tigers’ offense is more like a Mack truck with a big number 2 on it. Both teams will move the ball, and I think the score will be something akin to the 2006 classic between Texas and USC. I think the game will come down to Thomas’ ability to make the passing game an effective threat; he doesn’t need to put up big number through the air, just enough to prevent the Auburn defense from jamming the box and keying in on James. Ultimately, the offensive versatility of Newton will be too much for Oregon to handled.

Auburn 38, Oregon 31

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Responses

  1. Bowl Bonanza Picks: BCS National Championship Game « The Sports Doctor…

    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……


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