Oregon, Auburn take different paths to the BCS
If there was one word to characterize the typical Oregon game this season, it would be blowout.
For Auburn - try comeback.
Both of the teams playing in BCS title game are undefeated, but they've taken wildly different paths to Arizona. While the No. 2 Ducks have been in just one game that was closer than double-digits, the top-ranked Tigers have had to rally eight times.
Somebody's going to have an atypical game Monday night.
The Tigers' defining moment came on Nov. 26.
Auburn was down 24-0, nothing was going right, and 100,000-plus fans were mostly counting them out either with gleeful celebration or stunned silence.
The Tigers rebounded from that deficit, the biggest they've ever overcome in a victory, to beat bitter rival Alabama 28-27 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the regular-season finale. It stands as the latest and largest comeback led by Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Auburn has turned one cliche into practically an art form this season.
''It's not about how you start, it's about how you finish. I know everybody's heard that before,'' linebacker Josh Bynes said. ''That's basically it. We started out horrible against Alabama and we were down 24-0 and all of a sudden ended up winning the game 28-27 because we know how to finish as a team.
''We're all about finishing and that's why we're here now.''
It's a defining character trait that surfaced in Game 3, when Auburn rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit against Clemson. A missed 32-yard field goal in overtime preserved a 27-24 victory.
A week later, Auburn was down 20-7 against South Carolina and won by eight points after forcing four fourth-quarter turnovers. Thrillers followed against Kentucky (37-34), Arkansas (65-43, with 28 straight points in the fourth), LSU (24-17) and, of course, Alabama.
The Crimson Tide had never blown so large a lead in defeat.
''I think the chemistry of our team was built on the fact that we've had to win games about every way you can win them,'' Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. ''We've had to win them late. We've had to win them just different ways, defensively, offensively, special teams. We've been in a lot of big games. I think that anytime you are really exposed to a lot of different things, it can't do anything but help.''
And maybe it did. The Tigers nailed down a spot in the national title game with their most dominant performance yet, winning 56-17 over South Carolina for the Southeastern Conference championship. No comeback necessary.
Newton accounted for six touchdowns, with 335 yards passing and 73 rushing. He won the Heisman a week later, after also claiming the Maxwell Award as player of the year and the Davey O'Brien Award as the top quarterback.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, like Newton a junior college transfer, won the Lombardi Award.
Oregon running back LaMichael James, a Heisman finalist, keys what some have called Oregon's ''Blur Offense.'' It's a no-huddle, spread-option with an emphasis on speed. Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh described it as ''fast-fast.''
Here's the way it works. Oregon wears down opposing defenses, then scores pretty much freely after halftime.
The Ducks have outscored their opponents 592-221. In the fourth quarter, they've outscored foes 115-24. As for speed, 35 of their 71 scoring drives have taken five plays or less, and 24 have taken less than 56 seconds.
James delights in how often he gets to see the opposition get gassed.
''It makes teams where they can't sub. That really is a big key for us. When they can't sub, most guys get tired. They have the wrong personnel group in,'' he said. ''We really excel on that.''
Oregon opened with a bang, beating New Mexico 72-0, and followed it up with a 48-13 win at Tennessee.
The Ducks also blanked Portland State 69-0, giving the team multiple shutouts for the first time since 1964.
Oregon's winning margin was at least 20 points in all but a few of their games. The only time the Ducks deviated from the formula was midway through November, when they visited Cal and barely escaped with a 15-13 victory. The Golden Bears had a chance to go ahead early in the fourth quarter, but they were thwarted by a missed field goal and the Ducks held on.
Afterward, coach Chip Kelly insisted that it wasn't a big deal.
''A win's a win,'' he said.
More often, Oregon's games looked like the team's 52-31 win over Stanford on Oct. 2. The Ducks fell behind 21-3 early, but the frenetic pace eventually caught up with the Cardinal, who didn't score in the second half.
UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel was asked whether he'd ever seen a team click like the Ducks, who downed the Bruins 60-13 this season.
''That was impressive,'' he said. ''I'll leave it at that. That was impressive.''