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Monday, January 10, 2011
Ten reasons Oregon/Auburn will win

By Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Oregon will try to win its first football national title in Monday night's Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium, while Auburn will try to give the SEC its fifth consecutive national champion.

Both teams have explosive offenses and star quarterbacks. Neither team is known for playing very stout defense.

Here are 10 reasons each team could win the game.

Ten Reasons Oregon/Auburn Will Win
Mark -- Why Oregon will win Ivan -- Why Auburn will win
10. Auburn won't be able to come from behind against Oregon's high-octane offense. The Tigers have come from behind all season, erasing a 17-0 deficit against Clemson, 20-7 against South Carolina, 21-7 against Georgia, and most famously, 24-0 against Alabama in the Iron Bowl. But if the Tigers fall behind Oregon early, the Ducks might be too good on offense to allow them to come back. 10. The Auburn players have been the looser of the two teams this week. Oregon has been matter-of-fact in its approach. The Tigers didn't install a curfew until late in the week. They seem to be both focused and at ease in the walk-up to the biggest game of their young lives. With two offenses that depend on rhythm and timing, the team that's most comfortable will scrape off the rust the quickest. Advantage, Tigers.
9. Oregon has already blasted one top-five opponent this season. The Ducks defeated Stanford 52-31 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., on Oct. 2, rolling up 626 yards of offense and scoring 28 points in the second half. If you watched the No. 4 Cardinal demolish No. 13 Virginia Tech 40-12 in the Jan. 3 Discover Orange Bowl, you know the Ducks beat a really good team. 9. Five years ago, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik won a national championship ring as the defensive coordinator for Texas when it defeated USC in the Rose Bowl. Not only that, Chizik's record in bowl games as an assistant or head coach is 8-0. That may or may not be a sign of Chizik's acumen. So much depends on matchups. But Chizik must know how to prepare a team to win a bowl game.
8. Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner, will be the best player on the field Monday night. But Oregon sophomore Cliff Harris, a consensus All-American, might be the second-most-dangerous player in University of Phoenix Stadium. As a cornerback, Harris led the country with 20 passes defended and 15 pass breakups. He also was one of the most dangerous punt returners in the country. 8. Oregon has the best victory of either team, a three-touchdown defeat of No. 4 Stanford. But I'll take Auburn's 6-0 record against teams in the final BCS rating. That record includes a three-touchdown defeat of another BCS team, No. 8 Arkansas, a victory over No. 12 LSU and the historic comeback victory at No. 16 Alabama, the best non-BCS team this bowl season.
7. Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas is pretty good, too. Thomas, a sophomore from Houston, took over the job after Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the team and he completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,518 yards. He's thrown 28 touchdowns -- second most in school history -- and his 33 total touchdowns are the most by a Ducks player since Akili Smith scored 36 in 1998. 7. The Tigers have come back from double-digit deficits four times. They have won four games by three points or fewer, six games by no more than eight points. The Ducks have won one game by fewer than 11 points. That could be interpreted as a sign of Oregon's dominance. Give me a team that knows how to win a close game. Give me a team that knows how not to panic when it falls behind.
6. Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said his unit is going to play the way it has played all season, which means Newton is going to be attacked from all directions. Oregon's defense was second in the Pac-10 with 2.58 sacks per game and was at its best when it mattered most. Oregon's opponents converted only 33.5 percent of their third-down conversions (best in the Pac-10) and only 67.6 percent of their red-zone trips (second in the Pac-10). 6. Oregon's offensive tempo wears down a defense and allows the Ducks to dominate the second half of games. But Auburn has been equally dominant in the second half. Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof have been virtuosos in making halftime adjustments. Auburn has allowed 117 points in the first quarter, but only 117 points in the third and fourth quarters combined. Keep that in mind during a close game.
5. If you've watched Auburn's defense this season, you've seen that it's a little prone to giving up big plays. Few offenses were as explosive as Oregon's this season. The Ducks had 53 plays of 25 yards or longer, 22 of 40 yards or more, eight of 60 yards or more and four of 70 yards or more. The Ducks are a threat to take it to the house on any given play. 5. The Auburn defensive line is anchored by Lombardi Award-winning tackle Nick Fairley. The Auburn offensive line is anchored by All-American tackle Lee Ziemba. The Auburn offensive line outweighs the Oregon defensive line by 45 pounds per man. The Auburn defensive line is outweighed by fewer than 20 pounds per man. And this is not Size vs. Speed, as was the Rose Bowl (TCU, aka Speed, won). Auburn's lines are big and quick.
4. The Ducks rarely turn it over and their defense does a great job of manufacturing takeaways. Oregon forced 35 takeaways (20 interceptions, 15 fumbles) this season, which is only one short of the school record set in 1968. Thomas has thrown only seven interceptions, including just one in the final four games. 4. Here's why the Oregon defense won't feel comfortable: Newton is the national leader in passing efficiency. Newton (1,409 yards), Michael Dyer (950) and Onterio McCalebb (763) have combined for more than 3,100 yards rushing. Most important, Auburn runs at a high tempo often enough that the Tigers' defense will have a smaller adjustment to make than most defenses that take on the Ducks.
3. If Oregon takes a lead into the fourth quarter on Monday night, Auburn can forget about it. The Ducks have outscored their 12 opponents 115-24 in the final quarter this season, shutting out all but three of them. Oregon has trailed at the half only three times -- against Stanford, California and Arizona -- and only the Bears kept the score close in the final 15 minutes. 3. In offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Auburn has a coach who can scribble the X's every bit as well as Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. Malzahn has had five weeks to prepare for the Ducks. The Tigers scored touchdowns on their opening possession eight times this season, including four of the last five games. He also adjusts at halftime as well as any offensive coach in the nation. Oregon won't feel comfortable all night.
2. Auburn really doesn't want to punt the ball to the Ducks. The Tigers ranked last in the SEC and 91st nationally in net punting, averaging only 34.7 yards. The Ducks led the country in punt returns with an 18.2-yard average. Harris returned four punts for touchdowns, the most among FBS players, and Kenjon Barner also took one to the house. 2. No. 2, of course, belongs to quarterback Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner, the player who threw, ran for or caught 49 touchdowns, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior strong enough to carry a team from east Alabama to the Arizona desert. Newton needs only 184 yards to break Tim Tebow's SEC record for single-season total offense (4,181 yards). I don't know where the Tigers would be without Newton. I know where they wouldn't be.
1. Karma might be on the Ducks' side. Unless you live in Alabama or love pulling for an SEC team, every college football fan in the country seems to be rooting against the Tigers. Newton was scrutinized throughout the season after his father admitted to trying to shop his son to Mississippi State, and defensive tackle Nick Fairley has been labeled a "dirty" player. Plus, who doesn't love the Ducks' colorful uniforms? 1. Auburn is the champion of the Southeastern Conference. The champion of the Southeastern Conference has won the past four BCS national championships. You don't have to be Myron Rolle -- or any other Rhodes Scholar -- to figure out the rest.