Eugene Weekly : Feature : 12.30.10

Gridiron Zoology

Cousins from Troy, Ala., and Eugene, Ore., put up their dueling stats — the Ducks or the Tigers (or the War Eagles?). Alice Mullen from Troy and Bern Johnson from Eugene both understand that we take this stuff way too seriously. But this is number-crunching for serious folks. Place your bets. BCS Championship starts 5:30 pm Monday, Jan. 10.


Why Oregon Will Win
Ducks can fly farther than Eagles
By Bern Johnson

The Ducks will beat Auburn because:

• Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is burdened with the Heisman Curse — Heisman winners are not the same after they win the big prize. Indeed, Heisman winners are 1-6 in BCS Championship games. 

• Auburn is ranked #1 and Oregon is ranked #2 And #2 always tries harder.

• The Auburn players will be so enthralled with Oregon’s uniforms, they will forget to block and tackle.

• Auburn is not good at defending against the pass — the War Eagles rank #105 in the country — and Darron Thomas and his receivers will have a career day.

• Auburn is not great at covering punts — the War Eagles rank #20 in the country — and Oregon is very good at returning punts — the Ducks rank #1 in the country.

• Oregon is much better than Auburn at avoiding turnovers while forcing other teams to cough up the ball — Oregon ranks #7 in the country in turnover margin, while the War Eagles rank #33. The team that wins the turnover battle usually wins the game.

• Auburn thinks it plays fast football, but Auburn has not seen anything like Oregon’s pace. The speed of Oregon’s offense will wear down the War Eagles.

• Oregon has a veteran, deep offensive line that will contain Auburn’s all — everything defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Fairley won the Lombardi Award, given to the best lineman in the nation — let’s hope the Heisman Curse catches him too. Or, Oregon manages to run away from him. Or, Oregon’s pace wears him out. 

• Oregon’s deep, athletic corps of linebackers will prevent Newton from running wild.

• Auburn’s strength is throwing the ball — Newton ranks #1 in the nation in passing efficiency — and Oregon’s talented, fast crew of defensive backs will contain the Auburn passing game. Oregon ranks #6 in the nation in pass efficiency defense. 

• Auburn coach Gene Chizik will take the whole thing too seriously, never smile and forget to laugh, so his team will come out too tight. Meanwhile, Oregon coach Chip Kelly will keep laughing, wise-cracking and blasting music in practice so his Ducks will stay loose and win big. 

• Auburn has a real identity problem: Their helmets say “War Eagles,” they are known as the War Eagles, and they bring an eagle to games, but their “official” mascot is Aubie the Tiger. Aubie? I’ll take Puddles the Duck over Aubie any time.

• Auburn has relied on stunning comebacks to reach the championship game, but Oregon can slow down its offense and run out the clock to keep Auburn from coming back. Oregon’s hyperspeed offense gets all the attention, but the Ducks also have the ability to march down the field and burn time.  Oregon iced the Cal game with a drive that lasted more than 9 minutes.  If the Ducks use the last nine minutes of their season to grind down the field, Auburn’s offense won’t be scoring the points they need to come back. 

• The real key may be what happens between now and Jan. 10. All of Auburn’s players and all of Oregon’s players — that’s roughly 200 men below the age of 25 — will be under the microscope. Will all of them follow all of the rules until Jan. 10? Probably not. Kentucky will play the Compass Bowl without its starting quarterback following his arrest on charges of public intoxication and disorderly conduct. The team that manages to keep all its players focused on the game and eligible to play on Jan. 10 may be the real favorite.


Why Auburn Will Win
Duck defense can’t handle an eagle and a tiger
By Alice Mullen

First, a disclaimer: This will not be an unbiased report. I am a die-hard Auburn fan, and graduated from AU — shall we say, “back in the day.” So my opinion will be heavily skewed toward Auburn and the SEC.

Now let’s talk football! I know the Ducks have the second ranked offense in the country. And I know that AU’s defense ranks 54th, but — whom have the Ducks played? The Pac-10 ranks second in the Sagarin rankings to whom? You guessed it, the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

If we take the combined schedules of both teams, AU played teams with a combined won/loss record of 82 to 60. Oregon played teams with a won/loss record of 63 to 81. Nearly reversed!

AU played eight teams which are bowl eligible; Oregon played four (technically five, since USC is on probation). And Auburn played five ranked teams: Oregon played three. At the present, there are five SEC teams besides AU in the AP top 25; there is only one Pac-10 team. And, finally, Oregon’s strength of schedule ranked last in the Pac-10.

Oregon’s offense will no doubt run up some points. But AU’s defense gets better as the game goes along. Auburn’s opponents have scored 117 points in the first quarter, but only 48 in the fourth. And don’t think that our guys are going to run out of gas. Our defense practices against a fast-paced offense, too.

One other thing — AU played a warm-up game! In a conference like the Pac-10 with no championship game, your guys have been “resting” longer. Playing that extra game may give AU an advantage.

Finally, Cam can! Our Heisman Trophy winner is the real deal! At 6 foot 6 inches and 250 pounds, he outweighs eight or more of the Ducks’ defensive players. He ran for more than 170 yards against four SEC opponents in a row. He broke the SEC record for rushing yards by a QB, at the same time shattering the Auburn record.

And if you think you’ve got a handle on his running game, he can pass, too. He finished the season with a 67 percent pass completion record, and threw only six picks. In his final five games, he threw 15 TD passes and only one interception. He is one of only three players in NCAA history to rush and pass for 20 TDs each.

Maybe national honors can win the game for AU. Cam has won the Heisman Trophy (AU’s third recipient), the Davey O’Brien Award (top QB), the Maxwell Award (best all-around player), and the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award. Nick Fairley has won the Lombardi Award, and Gene Chizik (in his second year at Auburn) has won the Home Depot Coach of the Year.

Now for the “esoteric” reasons AU will win:

• Ugly uni’s — no national champion should wear uniforms like that!

• The Ducks are not, repeat NOT, playing at Autzen.

• AU is still nursing a grudge about 2004, when they were omitted from the championship game.

• AU has an eagle named Tiger and a Tiger named Aubie. Figure that out. But still, it’s two against one. And both eagles and tigers eat ducks.

• Cam’s beautiful smile.

In summary, Oregon has a great offense. They can and will score. But sooner or later, they will have to play defense, and I don’t believe their defense is up to the task. It should be an exciting game, but in the end I pick the Tigers by a score of 56-40. WAR EAGLE !







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