Five other reasons Auburn will win
We can all agree that Auburn wouldn't be here if not for Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. No duh.
But don't think for a minute that Newton carried the Tigers to an undefeated season and their first appearance in the BCS National Championship Game on his own — no matter how broad the shoulders on the 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback.
And now that they're here, don't think that Newton is the sole reason the Tigers will be hoisting the BCS trophy on Monday night at University of Phoenix Stadium. We offer these five reasons Auburn will defeat the Oregon Ducks that have nothing (OK, maybe just a little) to do with Newton.
Lombardi Award-winning defensive tackle Nick Fairley
Fairley, a junior, has proved at times unblockable while anchoring the Auburn defense. He is the talent evaluators' consensus choice to be the first defensive lineman taken in the 2011 NFL draft — some rank him No. 2 overall behind Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck — if he were to leave college a year early. He combines uncommon agility and athleticism for a 6-5, 298-pound interior lineman that enables him to harass quarterbacks from the middle of the line. Fairley has 10.5 sacks and a school-record 21 tackles for loss and was the SEC defensive player of the week five times. Oregon likes to test the middle of the defense with LaMichael James. Fairley could provide a sizable impediment.
A bonafide running game
While Newton is definitely a factor in keeping defenses occupied, Auburn's rotating stable of running backs — freshman Michael Dyer, sophomore Onterio McCalebb and senior Mario Fannin — has rushed for 2,008 yards and 19 touchdowns. Dyer set an Auburn freshman rushing record with 950 yards, handily breaking some guy named Bo Jackson's record of 829 despite not playing full-time. And Dyer's 5.9 yards per carry average was the worst among the three. McCalebb accumulated his 763 yards at a school-record clip of 8.6 yards per carry.
The Tigers have run against almost everyone. They had 440 yards on the ground against an LSU defense that was ranked sixth in the FBS (83.6 yards against) going in, and Dyer had 100-yard games against South Carolina, LSU and Ole Miss.
"I don't know names, but I know the numbers — 5 (Dyer), 23 (McCalebb) and 27 (Fannin). They're good," Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said.
No lead is safe
The Tigers do not flinch when they get behind, a tribute to not only the senior leadership but also the belief system instilled by coach Gene Chizik. The Tigers fell behind in eight of their 13 games, four times by double-digits, and still won them all. The prime example was their victory over defending national champion Alabama after falling behind 24-0 in the first 22 minutes, but they also wiped out a 17-point deficit against Clemson, a 14-point deficit against Georgia, and a 13-point deficit in the first of two meetings with South Carolina.
They're at their best when it matters
The Tigers gave up only 117 points in the second half this season and an even more miserly 48 in the fourth quarter and overtime. They forced turnovers on all four of South Carolina's second-half possessions on Sept. 25, got Arkansas to turn it over on three consecutive fourth-quarter drives on Oct. 16 and limited Alabama to 67 yards and no third-down conversions on eight second-half possessions.
All that, and a kicking game, too
Senior Wes Byrum broke his own school scoring record with 115 points this season. He has made 30 of 36 field-goal attempts over the last two years, has a career-long of 52 yards and is used to the center stage. Byrum beat Northwestern with a field goal in overtime in the 2010 Outback Bowl. As a freshman, he kicked field goals to beat Florida as time expired and Arkansas with 21 seconds left.