Tuesday, January 4, 2011
BCS championship: Twin irresistible forces
By Ted Miller
You should find the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game terribly offensive. If you love defense. But for folks who celebrate irresistible forces while finding immovable objects dull, this one should be a grand affair.
If both top-ranked Auburn and No. 2 Oregon hit their season averages on Jan. 10, fans will see 92 points and more than 1,000 yards of offense, including 591 yards rushing. The matchup features the Heisman Trophy winner and the nation's most efficient passer: Tigers quarterback Cam Newton. And it features the nation's leading rusher, Oregon's LaMichael James, who is a unanimous All-American and Heisman finalist.
Heisman winner Cam Newton led the nation in passing efficiency.
It features teams that run and pass well. It features teams that don't make a lot of mistakes. It features teams that overwhelm a defense with talent, tempo and creativity.
Finally, the game will showcase two mad scientists of offense who had 37 days without distraction to prepare schematic monstrosities in their underground lairs: Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
The scoreboard should be spinning for a pair of ludicrous speed attacks that had very few off-days this season.
Oh, there are the naysayers. You will get tut-tuts from those who claim "defense wins championships." Some will point out that in previous BCS title games, great offenses have fizzled out.
There's Florida State in 2001, when Chris Weinke & Co. were shut out in a 13-2 defeat to Oklahoma. The Seminoles averaged 549 yards and 42 points per game that year. And there's Oklahoma in 2009, which got stumped by Florida, 24-14. The Sooners averaged 51 points and 548 yards per game that year. Both of those offenses entered the title game being lauded as historically great. Not so much afterwards, though.
And Heisman Trophy winners often go splat in BCS title games, see Weinke, Eric Crouch, Jason White, Troy Smith and Sam Bradford.
Still, the winner of the BCS championship scored more than 30 points in eight of 12 games and more than 40 four times. Potent offenses do show up. Further, in most of the cases when offensive powerhouses have been exposed in the championship game, there's been a reasonable explanation: They faced an elite defense laden with NFL prospects. That is not the case with Auburn and Oregon.
At least that's the perception, one that frustrates Oregon fans. The Ducks rank 12th in the nation in scoring defense, sixth in pass efficiency defense, 16th in run defense and 25th in total defense. So that is pretty darn close to an elite defense, even though the Ducks lack star power. Moreover, Oregon surrendered just 4.53 yards per play, which ranks seventh in the nation and is better than any team the Tigers faced (yes, even Alabama).
The Ducks, however, did face an FCS team and seven FBS offenses ranked 58th in the nation or worse in scoring, including four ranked 96th or worse. They faced only one elite offense in Stanford. The Cardinal scored 31 points and piled up 518 yards, but were shut out in the second half.
Oregon finished the regular season ranked 25th in total defense.
Auburn ranks 54th in scoring defense, 55th in total defense and 75th in passing efficiency defense. The Tigers, however, are very good against the run, ranking 10th. They faced three offenses ranked in the top 25 in scoring -- Kentucky, Arkansas and Alabama -- and those foes scored 34, 43 and 27 points, respectively.
Last season's Rose Bowl might offer ideas for both defenses. For the Tigers, the Buckeyes showed a blueprint for how a physical front seven can stymie the Ducks' running attack with penetration, gap integrity and discipline. (Ducks fans would counter that Ohio State's defense looked great because quarterback Jeremiah Masoli couldn't hit the side of a barn in the passing game that afternoon). For the Ducks' veteran defense, it knows what it's like to play against a big, fast quarterback after seeing Terrelle Pryor post what continues to be the best game of his career.
So there is hope for the defenses, though it's hard to imagine both offenses sputtering and the winning total ending up in the 20s.
Of course, even if the offenses churn up yardage, as expected, that doesn't mean a defense won't win this championship. One of the two defenses is going to get more stops than the other, either through forcing turnovers or winning third down (and fourth, both teams aren't afraid to go for it).
Just don't be surprised if you don't need two hands to count the total number of punts.