By Rick Morris
When we had sports reporter Lindsay McCormick on Episode #128 of our FDH LOUNGE program (Tuesdays, 7-10 PM EST on SportsTalkNetwork.com) back on December 28, we noted how she exemplifies just how unlikely tonight’s BCS Championship Game matchup really is. She covers the Oregon Ducks and is a recent alum of Auburn, with many connections still at the school, so she is at the center of tonight’s game like perhaps nobody else. If you had told her back on Labor Day that these two teams would be playing for the national championship, she would likely have recommended that you get a saliva test. Why?
Because no two teams had come from further back in the AP preseason rankings to make this game in the BCS era. Oregon came into the season ranked 11th, while Auburn was 22nd. The Tigers were the furthest team back ever to make this game, while tonight also marks the first time that two teams outside the preseason Top 10 would be featured. Dating back to the inception of the BCS in 1998, here are the preseason rankings of the eventual BCS national champion and the team they played for the title:
2009: Alabama (5), Texas (2)
2008: Florida (5), Oklahoma (4)
2007: LSU (2), Ohio State (10)
2006: Florida (8), Ohio State (1)
2005: Texas (2), USC (1)
2004: USC (1), Oklahoma (2)
2003: LSU (14), Oklahoma (1)
2002: OSU (13), Miami (1)
2001: Miami (2), Nebraska (4)
2000: Oklahoma (19), Florida State (2)
1999: Florida State (1), Virginia Tech (13)
1998: Tennessee (10), Florida State (2)
Not only is this the first time for two teams to meet that started outside of the AP Preseason Top 10, it also snaps a six-year streak of teams meeting up that BOTH started in the Top 10. Truly, the word “unlikely” does not do justice to how this game would have appeared a few short months ago.
Of course, all college football fans know the story of how this game materialized, as the Ducks and Tigers both advanced relentlessly through the strength of unstoppable offenses. With Auburn QB Cam Newton and Oregon RB LaMichael James in the mix, arguably two of the top three offensive players in the country (along with Stanford QB Andrew Luck) will be taking the field, adding extra intrigue. While these two teams weren’t the marquee squads back in September, they certainly are now.
There are many interesting factors involved, some that the two teams have in common:
^ Auburn likes to play fast. Oregon likes to play superhuman-fast.
^ Oregon is a great second-half team. Auburn is as well, but they have relied on this strength to come back for wins instead of putting the other team away strongly as Oregon has been more wont to do.
^ As Lindsay pointed out on our program, despite the fact that the SEC is the toughest gauntlet to run year in and year out, Oregon’s strength of schedule was ever-so-slightly better than Auburn’s. In the Sagarin ratings (hat tip to FDH college football analyst Nate Noy for this tidbit), Oregon was #1 and Auburn was #3.
^ Both Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Oregon’s Gene Chizik have put themselves in position to replicate an incredible feat. One of these second-year coaches will win a national championship, matching the second-year accomplishment of Florida’s Urban Meyer (2006), Ohio State’s Jim Tressel (2002) and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops (2000). Who says turnarounds have to take forever?
More information can be found on ESPN’s BCS Title Game blog here.
The game figures to be a fast-break feast with lots of strong drives up and down the field. Auburn will not be able to notch another of their famous second-half comebacks, as both teams will need to keep it close and score on most possessions merely to keep victory plausible. Newton is way more disproportionately important to Auburn than any single player is for Oregon, but he has proved to be unstoppable through the season. Against a team noted for offense as opposed to defensive shutdowns, this should be the case one more time as degenerate gamblers betting the total will be sweating until the end. Auburn 38, Oregon 30.