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Monday, January 10, 2011
BCS title game: Oregon (12-0) vs. Auburn (13-0)

By Ted Miller

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The talk before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game is almost at an end, but here's a quick preview to tide you over before kickoff.

Our prediction comes later.

Who to watch: Cam Newton vs. the Oregon front seven. This sounds obvious but it has to be. Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the most dominant college football player in years. He accounted for 48 touchdowns. He's 6-foot-6, 250 pounds and runs with great speed and power. Can he consistently break contain against the Ducks and sprint into the open field? If the Ducks have a great day tackling, and if the first Duck doesn't miss Newton, then Oregon wins this game. Oregon knows what it's like to chase a big, fast quarterback after playing Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor in last season's Rose Bowl. Will that knowledge lead to enlightenment?

What to watch: The start and the finish. After a 37-day layoff, it will be interesting to see how sharp -- or rusty -- each team looks. Neither has been dominant in the first half this year, and both are no strangers to slow starts and falling behind early. Both are great at making halftime adjustments. And both are outstanding in the fourth quarter. Which fourth-quarter team gets a lead going into the final frame? Further, while some pundits have said Auburn's offense also likes to play at a fast pace, it's nothing like Oregon's. Just about every team Oregon has faced this year has wilted in the fourth quarter because of the Ducks relentlessness. Check out the Tigers defenders in the fourth quarter -- particularly tackle Nick Fairley -- are their hands on their hips? Are they breathing hard? If they are, and the score is tight at that point, count on the Ducks surging.

Why to watch: Heck, other than it's the national championship game and one of the toughest tickets in college football history? Start with Newton. Whatever you want to say about his off-the-field stuff, he's an outstanding player. And this is almost certainly his last college game. Then there's Fairley. He may end up the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft this spring. Auburn folks think he's going to dominate inside. If he does, the Ducks could be in trouble. For the Ducks, it's about the team, not individuals. Coach Chip Kelly's offense has had more than five weeks to prepare. What might his mad scientist offensive mind come up with? How fast can the Ducks play with all the commercial breaks? Will the Tigers defense wear down? And what about the Oregon defense? It's been overlooked all year. Then, when it gets to the title game, many pundits call them small and overmatched, no matter what the statistics say. Will Casey Matthews, Spencer Paysinger and company make a national statement about Pac-10 defenses? Oh, and there's that, too. A victory over the SEC in the national title game certainly would please every college football fan who is tired of hearing about the conference's dominance. And a loss would further cement the SEC's reputation as the preeminent conference.