Pac-12: 2011 BCS title game

Video: Oregon's Kenjon Barner

January, 11, 2011
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Oregon running back Kenjon Barner talks about the loss to Auburn.

Video: Oregon's Darron Thomas

January, 11, 2011
1/11/11
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Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas talks about the loss to Auburn.

Roundtable: Forde, Low, Maisel, Miller, Schlabach

January, 10, 2011
1/10/11
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Pat Forde, Chris Low, Ivan Maisel, Ted Miller and Mark Schlabach discuss the 2010 season and make their predictions for the BCS title game.

GameDay Live: BCS National Championship

January, 10, 2011
1/10/11
6:00
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Join our ESPN.com college football experts as they break down the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between the No. 1 Auburn Tigers and the No. 2 Oregon Ducks.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 8 p.m. ET. See you there.

Does SEC vs. Pac-10 matter?

January, 10, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Just after Oregon won the Civil War over state rival Oregon State on Dec. 4, the Ducks were asked about playing for the national title against massive, football-playing robots who came into existence after monstrous demon blacksmiths hammered them together in the darkest regions of Hades.

Or, you know, an SEC team.

Even five weeks ago, the question -- SEC vs. Pac-10 -- didn't really light much of a fire under the Ducks.

"We're going to play whoever," running back Kenjon Barner said at the time. "Who can say a conference is better than another conference or anything like that? We're just going to go out and play how we have to play."

[+] EnlargeOregon's Chip Kelly
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesChip Kelly says the Ducks are not playing for the Pac-10 in the BCS title game.
Oregon coach Chip Kelly was asked about the SEC's success in the championship games -- it's been whispered about by a few SEC moles that the conference has won four consecutive BCS national titles -- and whether that was meaningful to him.

For those of us who regularly chat with Kelly, we knew what was coming.

"We never get caught up in that," Kelly said. "We are not playing for the Pac-10. In my opinion, they are not playing for the SEC. It is Auburn versus Oregon. I don't think you can look at past successes and say, 'Hey, this conference did this, this conference did this.' You have no idea. Two years ago we went 5-0 in bowl games in the Pac-10 and everybody talked about us, and last year we didn't do a real good job. So I think it's a cyclical thing and each team is their own entity. We are not playing for the Pac-10, I can tell you that. We're playing for Oregon. It is Oregon versus Auburn ... I will never stand up in front of my team and say we are carrying the flag for nine other teams or whatever."

Is that just coachspeak, or another Chippism about playing a "faceless" opponent and not listening to "outside influences"? Maybe. But it seemed fairly clear that Kelly's Ducks were buying in. If a player was into the whole "SEC vs. the Pac-10" angle, the Pac-10 blog didn't hear it this week.

"We're not really worried about that," quarterback Darron Thomas said. "We're just going out playing against whoever we've got to play against."

Running back LaMichael James refused to bite when asked if the SEC was overhyped by the media: "I don't think they are making too much of it. [The SEC has] won, so I really can't say anything negative." But he then added, "It's not the Pac-10 versus the SEC. It is us versus Oregon. I mean, Auburn."

Oh, but this is a big angle for fans. There will be a lot of football fans across the country rooting for Oregon in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game just so the SEC doesn't win its fifth consecutive national title.

Further, a Ducks victory would undermine the theory of SEC superiority, at least in 2010-11.

If Auburn loses, the SEC will go 4-6 in bowl games and the Pac-10 3-1. Thus far, the SEC only has two bowl victories over ranked teams (Alabama over No. 9 Michigan State and LSU over No. 17 Texas A&M) -- the same number as the Pac-10 (Washington over No. 18 Nebraska and Stanford over No. 13 Virginia Tech).

Finally, if Oregon wins, the Pac-10 will improve to 13-9 versus the SEC this millennium. That's a fairly robust number in support of a, "Scoreboard, baby!"

While none of this qualifies as a thorough and objective measure of relative conference strength, it will give something for fans to crow about out west.

And if Auburn wins? Well, there isn't much you can say about five consecutive national titles and a fifth different SEC team winning a crystal football. That's impressive by any measure.

As for the Oregon players, they did show some signs of annoyance with certain questions this week, only they didn't really have a regional element to them. The oft-repeated theory that Auburn was too big for Oregon seemed to inspire more than a few smirks from the Ducks.

"They are a big team," Thomas said. "Tennessee was a big team. Like I said, there are teams in the Pac-10 just as physical, just as fast. Nothing we haven't ever seen before. So it is going to be a similar thing."

A similar thing? To the 48-13 win at Tennessee? Or the Ducks' 31-point average margin of victory? Hmm.

Just know this: When the smoke clears Monday night, one of the main headlines will be about which conference came out on top.

Video: Oregon QB Bryan Bennett

January, 10, 2011
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Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller interviews Oregon freshman quarterback Bryan Bennett.

BCS championship game predictions

January, 10, 2011
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The time for talking -- and typing -- is almost over as we get ready for the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between No. 1 Auburn and No. 2 Oregon, a pair of unbeatens who light up the scoreboard.

But first we need to get off the fence and make a prediction from both the Pac-10 and SEC blogs.

Chris, I'll start us off.

Oregon 38, Auburn 30: Auburn has a couple of outstanding individual players in quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, but the Ducks are a superior team. The Tigers' comeback win over Alabama was impressive -- perhaps the most impressive performance in the regular season -- but they also played a number of close games against teams that the Ducks would have taken to the woodshed. To me, it seems like Auburn peaked 37 days ago, which is too early. The Ducks are going to be sharp bell-to-bell. They will outflank the Tigers, they will wear them down and then they will get physical and knock them over. Newton and Fairley will make some plays, but in the end they won't make enough as the Pac-10 ends the SEC's run of national titles at four.

Chris Low: Ted, I do believe that we’re actually going to play a football game.

Auburn 42, Oregon 31: After 30-plus days off and breaking this game down from every angle imaginable, we find out who’s ready to take home the crystal trophy. Oregon will no doubt put a lot of pressure on Auburn’s defense. But in the end, the Ducks won’t be able to tackle Newton. Who has this season? The Tigers also won’t stray from their clutch lock-down mode defensively in the fourth quarter and will walk away with the SEC’s fifth straight BCS national championship.

Three keys for the BCS title game

January, 10, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Here are three keys for the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

1. Newton down on first contact: A quarterback feels pressure and decides to bolt: Almost every time that happens, a defensive player will have a shot to make a play at or behind the line of scrimmage. You know: You're screaming at your TV screen as the QB shakes a guy, ducks under a guy, or escapes an arm tackle. The Ducks need to make that play as much as possible. Think back to the 2010 Rose Bowl. How many times did Ducks just miss getting Terrelle Pryor down, only to watch him convert a third-down play with a scramble? Cam Newton will make plays with his feet. He will get away. He's too good to be completely muted. But if the Ducks make tackles -- one-on-one, in the open field, in the backfield -- when they have a shot, then that will go a long way to shutting down an offense that is entirely centered around Newton.

2. Scheme, scheme, scheme: Oregon has good players, but it also has s great scheme. Coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti are very good at finding and exploiting weaknesses, and they are also good at finding ways to offset an opponent's strengths. They can keep a team off-balance, and they are good at countering whatever an opponent is doing to scheme against them. So what's Aliotti's plan for keeping a lid on Newton? Blitz a lot? Or don't blitz? Use a spy? Or not? As for the Ducks' offense, they need to first account for the active physical presence of tackle Nick Fairley. What might Kelly have in store for the nation's best defensive lineman? And how many tweaks -- and tricks -- has Kelly added over the past five weeks? Good money is on the Ducks throwing a lot of things at the Tigers that they haven't seen and may not expect.

3. Turnovers, third downs, special teams: Oregon ranks seventh in the nation in turnover margin. Auburn ranks 32nd. The Ducks need to win that battle. Auburn ranks third in the nation in third-down conversions. Oregon ranks ninth in third-down conversion defense. The Ducks need to win that battle. While the kickers are a push, the Ducks are better in the punt game -- both kicking it and receiving it. The Ducks need to assert their superiority on special teams. While big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, it's also the little things that earn a team a national championship.
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.

Did you know? BCS title game

January, 9, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Some interesting numbers from ESPN Stats & Information to consider before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
  • Auburn Qquarterback Cam Newton has been much better throwing downfield over the second half of the season. On throws of over 20 yards over the past five games, he's completed 66.7 percent with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. In the first eight games, he completed just 34.5 percent with four TDs and five interceptions. FYI: Watch out for receiver Darvin Adams: Five of those TDs went to him, averaging 31.1 yards per reception.
  • A problem for Oregon's defense, which likes to blitz: Newton does his best work vs. the blitz. When opponents blitz, Newton has completed 73 percent of his passes with 10 TDs and no interceptions.
  • Since 2009, LaMichael James has produced 36 runs of more than 20 yards. That's the most in the nation.
  • Newton produced 29 runs of 15-plus yards this season, tops in the nation. He averaged 10.3 yards on 30 quarterback draws this season and 9.5 yards on 39 scrambles.
  • This might be a mild surprise (unless you watch a lot of Oregon football): James gained 53.9 percent of his rushing yards between the tackles. In comparison, the physical Heisman Trophy winner from last year, Alabama's Mark Ingram, gained just 41.4 percent of his yards between the tackles this season.
  • Of course, James is dangerous outside. He averages 7.2 yards per carry outside the tackles, 5.2 ypg inside the tackles.
  • Both teams can score at warp speed. Oregon has 23 TD drives of three plays or fewer this year. Auburn has 20. The Ducks have 44 TD drives that took less than two minutes; the Tigers have 30. Oregon is No. 1 in the nation in both numbers. Auburn is No. 2 and No. 4, respectively.
  • Oregon leads the nation in lowest time of possession on TD drives: 1:49.
  • Count on plenty of big plays. Auburn produced 58 plays of 25-plus yards, including 25 TDs. Oregon produced 53 plays of 25-plus yards, including 27 TDs. The TD counts rank first and second in the nation.
  • Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas is at his best using play-action passes. On throws of 15-plus yards after a run fake, he's tossed 11 TDs and a single interception.

Blogger debate: Auburn vs. Oregon

January, 9, 2011
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LaMichael James and Nick FairleyUS PresswireHow will Oregon's quick, but undersized LaMichael James do against big, bad Nick Fairley and Auburn?
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Players on both sides admitted that they saw this matchup coming long before the regular season ended.

Yep, Auburn and Oregon have seemingly been on a collision course for some time now.

It’s the matchup most of college football was hankering to see, and we get it on Monday night in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.

SEC blogger Chris Low and Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller lock horns in a little debate leading up to the game.

Chris Low: First of all, Ted, I know you’re not used to this. A Pac-10 team plays in the BCS National Championship game about as often as one of your teams fills up its stadium. In fact, until I saw Oregon out here in the Ducks’ spiffy new threads, I didn’t realize there was a team in the Pac-10 (other than USC) that was serious about its football. Anyway, my advice is to pace yourself, get plenty of rest before the big game and go ahead and start looking up the BCS National Championship Game records for most rushing yards allowed, most points allowed and most times we’ve seen a quarterback run over a linebacker. The guy who wears No. 2 for Auburn ain’t (as we say in the South) real easy to bring down. Honestly, can Oregon’s undersized defensive line hold up against Auburn’s big, veteran offensive line and the brilliance of Cam Newton?

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Dale Zanine/US PresswireCam Newton has been running over opposing defenses all season, accumulating 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Ted Miller: Ah, SEC trash talk is great fun. Pac-10 fans always hear it before a Pac-10 team leaves a footprint on an SEC team's forehead. Sure, the SEC has won a few of these BCS games – I forget how many because SEC folks never, ever mention it – but it's curious that none of those wins came over Pac-10 teams. And Chris, just what is the SEC's record with the Pac-10 this millennium? And now, after years of so-called SEC powers jumping behind shrubberies when USC came strutting by looking for a game, you've got Oregon smirking back at you. Auburn, Auburn, Auburn: You are in trouble. I worry because you don't seem to know what's coming. How's the cardio coming? Cam Newton? We over on the West Coast are really glad that a good quarterback played in the SEC this year. Must have been weird! But in the Pac-10, Cam Newton would be just another good quarterback. He's tall. He's heavy. Maybe one day he can be Andrew Luck's personal assistant? Newton isn't the best quarterback Oregon played this season. And the Tigers certainly don't have the best offensive line. Stanford and Auburn would have been a nice game. Oregon beat Stanford by 21 points, shutting out the Cardinal in the second half. To be serious: Oregon isn't going to shut down Newton and the Auburn offense. But you're going to see the Auburn punter more than Jackson Rice. The Ducks’ defense is fast, well-coached, forces a lot of turnovers and asserts itself in the second half. What about the other side of the ball? Is that really an SEC defense? How did Auburn get to this game with a ‘D’ that gave up more than 30 points to Kentucky, Ole Miss and Georgia?

CL: The truth is that this isn’t your typical SEC defense. The last four national championship defenses – all SEC defenses, I might add – were dominant in terms of limiting yards and points. This Auburn defense, while it did improve down the stretch, isn’t going to be confused for being a dominant defense. What the Tigers do have is a dominant player in junior tackle Nick Fairley, who’s the ultimate disrupter up front. Good luck in blocking him. And, yes, I’ve heard a time or two that Oregon does like to play at a fast pace. But it’s difficult to play at a fast pace when you’re continually having to peel your quarterback off the field. Fairley doesn’t just sack quarterbacks. He plants them. But back to the entire Auburn defense. The Tigers have an impeccable sense of timing. When they have to make a play on defense or make a key stop, they do it. It’s usually a different player doing the honors, too. And during winning time (the fourth quarter), the Tigers have outscored their opponents 128-48. The question is: How are the Ducks going to respond when they face a team that can match their speed, and at the same time, is significantly more physical?

[+] EnlargeOregon's Darron Thomas
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREDarron Thomas and Oregon ran past the most physical team they faced this season, Orange Bowl champion Stanford.
TM: I'm curious about how Fairley will, er, fair. This might shock SEC fans -- shock! -- but the Ducks have played against a lot of A-list defensive linemen over the past two seasons: Cal's Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan, UCLA's Brian Price, USC's Jurrell Casey and Oregon State's Stephen Paea. And they've been able to physically handle them. Or at least scheme them out of the game. Further, Auburn won't be the most physical team the Ducks have played: Stanford, last seen stomping Virginia Tech in the Discover Orange Bowl, might be the most physical team in the nation. Also, it's a bit of a myth that the Ducks don't play smashmouth. LaMichael James gets a lot of yards between the tackles. In fact, that's where Oregon goes in the fourth quarter when defenses start begging for mercy. Funny you should mention the fourth quarter. Auburn certainly has some nice numbers, but the Ducks have outscored foes 115-24. Think about that: Opponents score an average of 2 points per game in the fourth against Oregon. Chris, we're doing predictions on Monday. But it's clear you're going SEC and I'm going Pac-10. Give me some keys for Auburn to make you look smart and me look dumb.

CL: I think one of the most important keys for Auburn is not to give up anything cheap in the kicking game. The Tigers are 92nd nationally in net punting. Tackling well in the secondary will be equally important. Giving up 10- and 15-yard plays is one thing. But there were times this season when the Tigers gave up too many plays down the field in their secondary. Finally, Auburn needs to make Oregon prove it can tackle Newton. Nobody else has been able to this season. Newton didn’t run as much in those final few games, because teams were daring him to throw the ball. So he beat them throwing it. Something says the Ducks can expect to see a heavy dose early of No. 2 coming right at them. Good luck with that!

TM: Oregon will need to tackle well. It sometimes didn't do that in last year's Rose Bowl against Ohio State and Terrelle Pryor, whose speed and dimensions are not unlike Newton's. I like the Ducks' chances when Newton is passing. They rank sixth in the nation in pass-efficiency defense and grabbed 20 interceptions. The Ducks picked off Andrew Luck twice. Turnovers will be a key. The Ducks force a lot. Auburn doesn't give the ball away much. The Ducks need to win that battle. And the team that wins third down likely wins this game. Well, we're almost done with all the talking -- and typing -- here's hoping we get a competitive, entertaining game into the fourth quarter. Gosh, and I sure hope those big, mean SEC guys don't hurt those itty-bitty Duckies!

Video: Oregon OL C.E. Kaiser

January, 9, 2011
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Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller interviews Oregon offensive lineman C.E. Kaiser.

Video: Oregon vs. Auburn preview

January, 9, 2011
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Ted Miller and Chris Low give their thoughts on what they heard at Gene Chizik and Chip Kelly’s news conference.

Plan doesn't change for Kelly, Oregon

January, 9, 2011
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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Oregon coach Chip Kelly faced the media for the final time Sunday before the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game, and when asked for his opening statement, his response won't surprise those who follow the Ducks.

"Wow. Haven't heard enough?" he quipped. "Game is tomorrow night. Let's go play. Questions?"

The time for talking, which Kelly never really engaged in with much relish anyway, is almost over. Time to walk the walk.

While Auburn coach Gene Chizik spoke with reporters for a full half hour, Kelly was done in 15 minutes. When asked general questions about college football rules, the BCS system, the SEC vs. the Pac-10 and that now infamous refund Kelly provided a fan unhappy with the result at Boise State in 2009, Kelly refused to engage.

"It's about playing the game now," Kelly said.

As for the game, Kelly did have some thoughts.

The Ducks defense is going to have to tackle well, particularly when Tigers quarterback Cam Newton and his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame takes off running. The offensive line is going to have to win the battle with Nick Fairley and a tough Tigers front four. And the Ducks need to protect the ball and force Auburn to make mistakes.

"Whoever wins that turnover battle is probably going to win the game," Kelly said.

Oregon ranks seventh in the nation in turnover margin, and its 35 forced turnovers ranks third. Auburn ranks 32nd in turnover margin.

Moreover, Oregon has a decided advantage with special teams. Explosion plays and field position likely will provide a significant measure.

"The hidden yardage usually occurs in the special teams game," Kelly said. "It will be an interesting matchup. That battle I think there could be a determining factor in the game -- how well do we defend them in their return game and how well do they defend us in our return game."

Kelly did admit that the Ducks playing in the Rose Bowl last year should help. Almost the entire starting lineup from the crew that was upset by Ohio State is back. Kelly supported the notion that his team being a year older, a year more mature and experienced should be beneficial.

"In life, you are a byproduct of your experiences," Kelly said. "The fact we have played in a game of that stature like the Rose Bowl, hopefully we can learn from that, the good and the bad. I think our kids are a little bit more mature. I watched them as the season went along. There wasn't a huge celebration at the end of it. It was about we still have another game to play. I think maybe we were happy to get there last year. Now we have to see if we can do the next step and actually win the game."

When asked if Auburn could simulate the Ducks' offensive tempo in practice, Kelly essentially said no, but noted, "We can't simulate Cam Newton."

And that was about as close as Kelly came to putting a face on the Ducks' foe. Kelly has stayed true to his mantra of playing a "faceless opponent" every week this season, and it's worked well 12 times. He's not going to change now, no matter how big the stage.

"It's about what we do," he said.

So Kelly's final thoughts about the biggest game in Oregon history are simple, and you've certainly heard them before: Stick to the plan. Play fast, play hard, finish. Win the day.

Video: Oregon linebacker Josh Kaddu

January, 9, 2011
1/09/11
10:30
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Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller interviews Oregon linebacker Josh Kaddu.

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