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Fearless Rick's 2010-11 College Football National Championship Picks

Rick Gagliano | January 10, 2011

All times Eastern - Click here for BCS Bowl games

January 10, 2011


BCS Championship
Oregon Ducks vs. Auburn Tigers (-3, 74)
8:00 pm ABC

To the consternation of TCU supporters everywhere, both the Ducks and Tigers went through the season without dropping a single game. The top-ranked Tigers (according to the BCS) are 13-0 while the #2 Ducks enter the game as slight underdogs with a 12-0 record.

Auburn has the extra win courtesy of their destruction of South Carolina in the SEC Championship game in which they blistered the Gamecocks for a 56-17 win. In that game, as throughout the season, the star of the game was Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the nation's most unstoppable force. Not even allegations of "pay-for-play" scandal and an NCAA investigation could derail the Auburn Express. Newton easily captured the Heisman Trophy, and he richly deserved it.

Just for the sake of something to gawk at, here are his incredible stats, which need two lines, he's so gifted:

In 13 games at quarterback, Newton rung up a QB rating of 188.2. He threw 246 passes with 165 completions, (67.1%) for 2589, 10.5 yards per attempt, 199.2 yards per game, 28 TDs and 6 INTs. He was sacked just 21 times, which is incredible considering how many times he carries the ball for 139 yards in losses, or an average loss of just over 6 1/2 yards.

But the legend only begins there. Newton rushed 242 times for 1238 yards, an average of 5.1 yards per carry and 95.2 per game, with 20 TDs. He accounted for 48 touchdowns himself, either as a thrower or a runner.

So incredible are Newton's numbers that other players on the Tiger roster are often overlooked, but they are notable in themselves. Michael Dyer, a bruising back with speed and power, carried 160 times for 938 yards, an average of 5.9 per carry. The guy they love to pitch the ball to on the fringes is Onterio McCalebb, who handled the ball on 89 rushes for 725 yards, an eye-popping 8.1 yards per carry.

When Newton looks to throw, he's aiming for a trio of favorite receivers, Darvin Adams (48 grabs for 909 yards), Terrell Zachery (37 for 557), or Emory Blake (29 for 500). Mario Fannin is another back who can also catch, along with Kodi Burns and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. And let's not forget, Newton also caught two balls himself, one for a touchdown, for a total of 42 more yards. The Tigers have plenty of weapons.

The Oregon offense starts and ends with running back LaMichael James, who needs just 70 yards to overtake Illinois' Mikel LeShoure, who leads the nation with 1648 yards rushing and has no remaining games to play. James has 1578, and Nevada's Vai Taua, who plays Sunday for Nevada against Boston Collage, is also in the rushing title mix, at 1522.

James carries the ball almost half the time Oregon stays on the ground, which is part of the reason he averaged 143.5 yards per game and 5.6 yards per carry with 21 TDs. If he's not toting the pigskin, it's usually either his backfield mate, Kenjon Barner, a burn notice in his own right, who rushed 80 times for 501 yards, or 6.3 yards per carry. Otherwise, quarterback Darron Thomas, who replaced Jeremiah Masoli when he was ruled ineligible during the summer, will just keep it, and he's been effective, running for 421 yards on 85 carries.

Thomas can heave it with the best of them and has blossomed in Oregon's spread attack. He completed 195 of 321 passes (60.7%) for 2518 yards, 28 TDs and just 7 picks. His favorite receiver is Jeff Maehl, who snatched 68 balls for 943 yards. Drew Davis (36 for 410) and David Paulson (21 for 370) are also dangerous. The Oregon offense will rely on James in crucial situations as well as on first down to set the tempo and get the offense humming. James has shifty, quick feet and breakaway speed. Where Auburn has the unstoppable Newton, Oregon has the uncatchable James.

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The focus of this game is clearly on the offenses, and with good reason. Oregon led the nation in points per game, averaging 49.3, and were just one-tenth of a yard shy of tying Oklahoma State as the most productive in terms of yardage, at 537.5 per game.

Auburn is ranked 6th in scoring, putting up an average of 42.7 points per outing on 497.7 yards of offense, 7th best, nationally.

But stopping these two dynamic offenses will be the burden of the opposing defenses, and therein lies an advantage for the Ducks, who were up among the leaders in points allowed, at 18.4 per game, 14th, nationally and right behind PAC-10 leader Stanford, at 17.4. Oregon gives up an average of 331.6 yards per game and is stout against the run, also ranked 14th bast in the nation.

By contrast, Auburn looks like a poor second fiddle. Their defense finished 7th in the SEC, just ahead of Tennessee, at 24.5 points per game. While they were close to Auburn defending the run, 17th, they did allow 362.2 yards per game and gave up plenty of passing yards. The Auburn stats point up another strange SEC possibility. Either the offenses in the conference were really good, or the defenses were pretty shabby. No matter which way you slice it, on both sides of the ball, Oregon has advantages.

Oregon also won their games by a much wider margin than Auburn, and even though one might attest that the PC-10 was not as rugged as the SEC, Auburn had to come from behind in more than half their games and won four games by four points or less. However, the Tigers played five games against teams that were ranked 18th or higher, compared to just one (Stanford) for Oregon.

A few intangible aspects may be the most important elements of this game. While Auburn hasn't officially won a national championship since 1957, that one awarded by the AP, they've had seven years in which they were undefeated, the latest as recently as 2004, when the finished second in both the AP and Coaches Top 25, to USC. Oregon has never won a national championship and that will prove to be a very strong motivating factor.

Additionally, the list of Heisman winners who also won national championships is very short. Only 13 players have accomplished that feat, the latest being Mark Ingram on Alabama's top squad from 2009-10. Before that Matt Leinart won with that 2004-05 USC team and Charles Woodson turned the trick in 1997-8 at Michigan. It's only happened in consecutive years once, when Danny Wuerffel led Florida to the title in 1996-7, prior to Woodson and Michigan, and, from 1950 to 1975 on John Huarte of Notre Dame was able to win both the Heisman and the championship, so Newton's odds seem slim.

While the pundits and fans look for possibly the highest national championship game of all time (currently the 2005-06 Rose Bowl in which Vince Taylor and Texas defeated Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush of USC, 41-38), defense has to play a part in the outcome of this game, either in the number of stops and forced punts or on critical 4th down plays or at the end of the game, as it was in the Texas-USC contest when the Longhorns stuffed USC on a 4th-and-1 attempt late in the 4th quarter. Defense wins championships and in a game featuring two offenses of this caliber, Oregon has the edge. No team has scored more than 32 points against the Ducks this season. Auburn might, but it still won't be enough. Plus, you'll get anywhere from two to 3 1/2 points with the Ducks, though they'll likely not need them.

Prediction: Oregon Ducks 44 Auburn Tigers 34

All times Eastern - Click here for BCS Bowl games

Copyright 2010, 2011, Rick Gagliano, Downtown Magazine. All rights reserved. Downtown Magazine is located in the Uinted States of America and is not affiliated with the National Football League or the NCAA. For more information, contact us here. Use of this site is for entertainment purposes only.


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