This time, Oregon will swoosh to title

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Mark Whicker
Monday, January 10, 2011
— Don’t apologize for that queasiness you feel as you envision the Oregon Ducks as BCS national football champions.

Their revolving uniforms are a little too precious.

Their coach, Chip Kelly, does not appear old enough to have invented football but seems to believe it nevertheless.

Their sponsor, Nike’s Phil Knight, thinks the student-athlete experience includes flat-screen TVs and surround-sound in the locker room.

Their marketers put Joey Harrington’s giant image in Times Square, which is not the natural habitat for Heisman voters.

One of the happy rituals of the holidays is watching the Ducks get plucked.

The Rose Bowl, a year ago, provided the richest example.

Hackneyed and archaic Ohio State was supposed to blink dumbly at Oregon’s gigabyte offense, like a moose gazing at a Ferrari.

Instead, the Buckeyes kept the ball for more than two-thirds of the game and hammered the Ducks, 26-17.

It was almost as much fun as the 2009 opener, when working-class Boise State stormed the mansion, held Oregon to 152 yards total offense and won, 19-8.

But those who prefer to go Duck-blind, whose insides turn green and yellow whenever Oregon actually cashes its own checks, had better watch “Antiques Roadshow” or something else tonight.

Auburn has the two best players in tonight’s BCS climax, quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

They won’t be enough to stop the Fighting Swooshes.

For one thing, Oregon is actually underrated in some areas.

Despite 22 plays of 40 or more yards, the Ducks offense has a high slugging percentage and will crush you slowly if necessarily. LaMichael James is a tough piece of leather at 5-foot-9 and 185, and the Ducks were physical enough to score touchdowns in two-thirds of their red zone appearances.

Auburn had the No. 2 rush defense in the SEC.

But that’s the SEC’s dark secret. It is not a physical offensive conference. There were four 1,000-yard rushers, including Newton. The Pac-10 featured six.

And even then you must weigh the SEC’s attitude toward nonconference scheduling, which is similar to John Daly’s attitude toward brownies.

Auburn’s nonconference victims were Arkansas State, Louisiana-Monroe, Chattanooga and Clemson, which led the Tigers, 17-3, and lost in OT when its field-goal snapper committed a false start, leading to a game-ending miss.

In fact, Auburn did not become a dominant team until late November.

The Tigers edged Mississippi State and Kentucky by three points apiece.

They trailed South Carolina, 20-7, at home before winning, 35-27, and they trailed Arkansas at home, 43-37, before scoring 28 in the fourth quarter.

The surest bet tonight is that if the Ducks get a two-touchdown lead, Auburn will not see them again. Oregon’s foes have scored 77 points in the second half.

Stanford, which Oregon whipped, 52-31, is better than anyone Auburn played.

LSU would be the closest contender, and it took Newton’s best to extract that 24-17 victory, along with a 70-yard run by Onterio McCalebb.

Now, the 6-5, 250-pound Newton is taller than all but one of Oregon’s defensive starters and he weighs more than eight others. There is always the possibility that, sometime in the second half, Newton will engrave his name upon this game and turn the Ducks into bystanders.

Since no one has stopped him, it makes little sense to seek formulas. Oregon can pick the less dangerous poison by making Newton pass.

The Ducks secondary is solid and wide-ranging, with 20 interceptions. It has held passers to 5.7 yards per attempt, lowest in the Pac-10.

Much pressure will fall on Oregon QB Darron Thomas, but his 28-7 TD-to-interception margin was exactly the same as Andrew Luck’s.

He also has the most underrated receiver in America in Jeff Maehl, who drops nothing, shrugs off the big hits, and caught 12 touchdowns.

It is difficult to imagine Auburn’s iffy defense will be more prepared for Oregon’s act than anyone else is. The Ducks have SEC speed, they do not stop coming, and they never make anything obvious. You cannot run recklessly to the ball if you cannot find it.

And if everything else is equal, Oregon has Cliff Harris.

“I came here to lock stuff up,” Harris announced at his first team meeting, although he didn’t say “stuff,” and he has done it as the Pac-10 best cornerback. He also has five returns for touchdowns, four on punts.

Oregon’s only previous SEC encounter was at Tennessee. Within a 15-minute span, James, Harris and Kenjon Barner scored on plays of 72, 76 and 80 yards, and the Ducks won, 48-13.

This one will be closer. It might not be close. Oregon, national champions. As the BCS advocates always tell us whenever logic fails them, deal with it.

Last updated: 4:08 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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