College football: Defense will not get much rest in BCS Championship
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Steve Spurrier, the ball coach who knows a little about offense, said the game could wind up 60-55. Kirk Herbstreit, the TV analyst who knows a little about these teams, said defenses must bristle when they keep hearing about scores in the 55-53 range. The bookmakers in Las Vegas, who don't throw out their numbers just for fun, envision something more like 38-35.
There's a reason Auburn and Oregon are playing in the BCS national title game Monday, a reason the matchup has turned into a red-hot ticket.
These are two newcomers to the championship scene, both with offenses that, almost literally, never take a break. Auburn has Cam Newton, the Heisman Trophy winner who led the Southeastern Conference in rushing, passer efficiency and scoring. Oregon has LaMichael James, the key to an offense that likes to snap the ball 9 to 11 seconds after the end of the previous play, and one that scores a nation-high 49.1 points a game.
"We're anticipating it being very quick, obviously, from the things that we've heard," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "But we're prepared for that."
Chizik and Oregon's Chip Kelly are, quite possibly, the most obscure coaching duo to pace the sideline in a championship game since the BCS began in 1999.
Both are in their second seasons as head coach at their schools. Chizik is a former defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas who came back to the Plains despite a 5-19 record at his first head-coaching job at Iowa State. Kelly was hand-picked by his predecessor, Mike Bellotti. After his first game as Oregon's head coach, a 19-8 loss to Boise State to start 2009, Kelly famously cut a check to reimburse a season-ticket holder who wrote him to complain about the performance.
Chizik and Kelly are both success stories in their own right but have spent the week puncturing the long-held theory that the most intriguing characters in college sports often are the coaches. Neither has said much memorable in the weeklong build up to the game. After posing stiffly for the cameras in front of the crystal championship ball Sunday, the coaches headed into their final pregame news conferences.
Asked for his opening statement, Kelly responded: "Game is tomorrow night. Let's go play. Questions?"
So much for insight.
Auburn has been pummeled all season with questions about Newton's status, the result of a meandering investigation into allegations that his father was involved in a failed pay-for-play scheme during Newton's recruitment to Mississippi State.
The NCAA cleared Newton to play shortly before the SEC title game, and with the Tigers confident — at least for now — they won't have to give back the crystal ball if they win it, the most notable thing to pass for controversy this week has been the debate over whether Auburn defensive lineman Nick Fairley is a cheap-shot artist.
Fairley, the Lombardi Award winner as the nation's best lineman, has brandished a reputation for playing very hard through the whistle, and sometimes beyond. How Oregon's quick — but not huge — offensive line handles Fairley could dictate how well Oregon's fast-paced offense runs.
"He's got speed, strength, technique," Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "Basically, all the things you don't want to see as an offensive guy lining up against him, he's got."
James, who has averaged 152 yards and almost two touchdowns for an offense that has been held under 37 points only once all year, said he can tell when a defense is breaking down.
"You start seeing a lot of hands on hips, broken tackles, things like that," he said. "You see them blitzing but not really blitzing because they don't have the energy."
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