- Where: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
- When: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Records: Oregon 12-0, 9-0 Pac-10; Auburn 13-0, 8-0 SEC
The Ducks dismissed Jeremiah Masoli last spring and didn’t miss a beat. Darron Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound sophomore, has headlined Oregon’s up-tempo attack, having thrown for 2,518 yards and 28 touchdowns this year. Receiver Jeff Maehl has a school-record 12 touchdown receptions to go with 943 yards, numbers on par with the SEC’s best wideouts. With 68 receptions, he’s within reach of Samie Parker’s single-season school record of 77 set in 2003. Auburn’s defensive Achilles’ heel remains its pass defense. Although the Tigers have been good in spots, they still rank 105th nationally in stopping the pass, giving up 250.5 yards per game. Edge: Oregon.Oregon running backs vs. Auburn linebackers
LaMichael James, the Doak Walker Award winner and a unanimous All-American, led the nation with 1,682 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, displaying a physical style of running belying his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame. But he’s not all the Ducks have. Sophomore Kenjon Barner added 519 yards and six touchdowns and Thomas 492 yards and five more scores. Oregon’s 303.8 rushing yards per game were the fourth most nationally. The Tigers have experience at linebacker, with Josh Bynes (71 tackles) and Craig Stevens (57 tackles) having made 78 combined starts. But Auburn has had more success facing physical runners than speedy ones, and Oregon’s backs certainly fall in the latter category. Edge: Oregon.Oregon offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line
The Ducks have an experienced unit up front, with its five starters having combined for 137 starts. Center Jordan Holmes, a senior, earned first-team All-American honors by Sports Illustrated. Right guard C.E. Kaiser, left tackle Bo Thran and left guard Carson York all earned All-Pac -10 honors by various services. The group has allowed only eight sacks all year, fifth fewest nationally. Auburn will be a challenge, though. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the Lombardi Award winner, led the SEC in tackles for a loss (21) and sacks (10.5). Defensive Antoine Carter (10 TFLs, 4.5 sacks) is a threat on the edge, and tackle Zach Clayton has been an underrated rock in the middle. Edge: Push.Auburn passing game vs. Oregon secondary
Any doubts about the Tigers’ passing potency were answered in the first half of the SEC championship game, when wideout Darvin Adams hauled in seven passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns to bury South Carolina. Quarterback Cam Newton, better known for his running, remains underrated as a passer, with 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns. Wideouts Terrell Zachery and Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen are bona fide threats through the air. Oregon is talented on the back end, however. At cornerback, Cliff Harris is a first-team All-American, while Talmadge Jackson made the Pac-10 first team. Although the Ducks have 20 interceptions, they have allowed 214 yards per game, 51st nationally. Edge: Auburn.Auburn running backs vs. Oregon linebackers
Newton’s a runner too, with 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns as proof. But Mike Dyer (950 yards, 5 TD) and Onterio McCalebb (763 yards, 9 TD) give the Tigers a solid power-speed combination at tailback. Add it all together and Auburn has the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the country, averaging 287.2 yards per game, trailing only Georgia Tech, Air Force, Nevada and, yes, Oregon. The Ducks are led by middle linebacker Casey Matthews, a first-team All-Pac-10 selection who had 73 tackles and 8.5 TFLs this season. Outside linebacker Spencer Paysinger is right there with him, with 68 tackles. The key stat is this, though: None of Oregon’s linebackers are bigger than 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. That’s three inches and 15 pounds lighter than Newton. Edge: Auburn.Auburn offensive line vs. Oregon defensive line
You want experience? Auburn has it, with left tackle Lee Ziemba, left guard Mike Berry, center Ryan Pugh and right guard Byron Isom having made 161 career starts between them. The group paved the way for Tigers backs to top 300 yards in six straight SEC games this year. And they’re meaty, averaging 304.4 pounds across the front. Oregon’s much smaller (their tackles weigh only 270 pounds), but they’re quick. Tackle Brandon Blair and end Kenny Rowe have combined for 28 tackles for a loss and nine sacks this year. Oregon’s 31 sacks are tied for 18th nationally and its 90 tackles for a loss are tied for seventh. Edge: Push.Oregon return units vs. Auburn coverage teams
The Tigers have had some success holding returners in check, but they haven’t seen returners of the Ducks’ caliber before. Harris, who doubles as a punt returner, has returned four for touchdowns this season, averaging 20.9 yards per return. Barner, his backup, took one back for an 80-yard touchdown. Auburn ranks in the top-20 nationally in both punt and kick return yardage average, but the punter position is still a problem. Senior Ryan Shoemaker remains the starter, despite his 39.0-yard average. Edge: Oregon.Auburn return units vs. Oregon coverage teams
Auburn has multiple kick return threats, with Demond Washington (25.0 avg.) and McCalebb (28.4 avg.) both capable of breaking a big one. Punt returns are in safer hands now that Adams got the nod over Quindarius Carr, whose questionable decisions and unsure hands put the Tigers in a bind more than once this season. The Ducks have a strong kick coverage team and punter Jackson Rice averages 43.1 yards per kick. Edge: Push.Kickers
Auburn senior Wes Byrum went 15-for-20 this year on field goals, although the Tigers’ offense has been so efficient in the red zone of late that he hasn’t made a field goal since October (he’s 0-for-1 the last four games). Oregon sophomore Rob Beard has an identical field goal percentage with fewer attempts (9-for-12). In the end, experience wins out. Edge: Auburn.Coaches
This isn’t Auburn coach Gene Chizik’s first rodeo. He was a defensive coordinator for Texas when the Longhorns won it all in the 2005 season, a year after being on the staff of an Auburn team that went 13-0. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is relatively new to the scene, just six years removed from being a high school coach, but the Broyles Award winner as the nation’s top assistant coach doesn’t seem affected by it. Oregon’s Chip Kelly, the Eddie Robinson national coach of the year, is in a similar spot, four years after being the offensive coordinator for New Hampshire, a Football Championship Subdivision team. He has big-game credentials, though, having played in last year’s Rose Bowl. If you’re looking for experience on Oregon’s side, look no further than defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, who has spent 18 years at Oregon in three different stints. Edge: Push.Prediction
Expect points a plenty. Both teams are known for their offenses, and although long layoffs have a tendency to disrupt rhythm, both teams’ offensive masterminds (Malzahn, Kelly) are sticklers for precision, which could offset the rust. Both teams are evenly matched. Nobody has stopped Newton yet, but for as good as the Tigers have been offensively, the Ducks are just as potent, averaging close to seven more points a game (49.3). If there’s one advantage to be had, it’s that Auburn has performed well in close games this season. The Tigers rallied from four different double-digit deficits, with eight of their 13 games being decided in the fourth quarter. The Ducks had one game, a 15-13 nail-biter against California, that was decided by less than 11 points. Prediction: Auburn 45, Oregon 42.