Except this year.
As we look ahead to the 2011 BCS National Championship Game, one thing is certain: Oregon and Auburn have earned their way into this game not through bruising, disciplined defense, but rather through outlandishly effective offense.
These teams put up points. A lot of points. Ridiculous amounts of points. They are talented. Fast. Skilled. Prolific.
Which means, of course, that when all is said and done, we may see 100 points scored in this one. And no, I'm not exaggerating.
Strap yourselves in, folks. It’s gonna be a great one.
That is, unless you like defense.
WHAT: 2011 BCS National Championship Game
WHEN AND WHERE: 8:30 p.m., Monday; Glendale, Arizona (ESPN)
WHY TO WATCH: Well, because it’s the national championship game, of course. Oh, and also because it’s going to be a blast. An absolute blast. All due respect to TCU, which completed an undefeated season with a Rose Bowl triumph over Wisconsin, there’s little doubt that Auburn and Oregon are the two deepest and most talented teams in the country. They also boast the nation’s two best offenses—and it's not really that close. The Tigers, led by Heisman Trophy winner Cameron Newton, rack up 497.7 yards and 42.7 points per game; the Ducks, paced by Heisman finalist LaMichael James, are even better, posting an astounding 537.2 yards and 49.3 yards per game. In other words, if you like big plays and plenty of points, this is the game for you.
WHO TO WATCH: The obvious pick would be Newton, who is without question the entirety of Auburn’s offense (if he should finally have a bad game, the Tigers have no chance here). But that’s not my pick. No, the player (well, players) to watch in this one are the guys over on Auburn’s defense. As in, the entire defense. The Tigers are about to endure the biggest test—the biggest physical test, and biggest mental test—that they’ll have faced all season. Oregon’s offense is not prolific simply because the Ducks are talented; no, the Ducks score a whole lot of points based also on their frustratingly fast-paced system—a system in which plays are run in such quick succession that defense often don’t have time to catch their breath (or get subbed out) before the next snap. It’s one thing to try and figure out Chip Kelly’s schemes; it’s another thing entirely to try and figure out Chip Kelly’s schemes when your lungs (and legs) are burning. There is no question that Auburn is more physical than the Ducks. But are they as well conditioned? Are they ready for the torture that awaits them?
WHY AUBURN CAN WIN: Size. Physicality. Brute strength. Auburn is not your prototypical SEC championship-caliber team in some respects—the defense ranks only 54th in the nation in scoring defense—but the Tigers certainly do fit the mold in others. Go back and watch the film of their SEC title win over South Carolina and you won’t just see speed and skill over on Auburn's offense; you’ll also see a hard-hitting, aggressive defense that physically dominated (and intimidated) the Gamecocks from the get-go. Oregon has only faced one team—Stanford—that is anywhere near as physical as the Tigers.
WHY OREGON CAN WIN: Because they’re a lot better on defense than Auburn. As mentioned above, the Tigers are decidedly middle-of-the-pack on that side of the ball. The Ducks, meanwhile, rank 14th nationally in scoring defense. They don’t get much credit, probably because all of the attention goes to their offensive counterparts, but this no-name group has been crucial to the Ducks dream season. They’ll need to turn in one of their best performances of the year if they hope to contain Newton, which is something that no other team has accomplished all season.
STAT WORTH THINKING ABOUT: Auburn is giving up 24.5 points per game. Average at best. But there's more: The Tigers are weak against the pass, give up a lot of first-half points and aren't very stingy in the red zone, either (opponents have scored on 88 percent of their trips there). In other words, this is not a great defense. Which makes you wonder how they're going to fare against a better-than-great offense.
STAT NOT WORTH THINKING ABOUT: The "worst" defense to win a national title in the BCS era was the 2002 Ohio State defense, which gave us 19.9 points per game (as compared to Auburn's 24.5) and 320.9 yards per game (as opposed to Auburn's 362). It's a nice little historical stat, but it has little to no relevance to this game.
PREDICTION: You can argue that Auburn will win by wearing down the Ducks with their superior size and strength. You can argue Oregon will wear down Auburn with their fast-paced offense and superior conditioning. Both arguments have their merits. But I’m going with the latter. Though I do wonder how the Oregon offensive and defensive lines will handle the battering they’re going to endure from the Tigers, and though I am quite certain the Newton and that Tiger offense is going to put up a ton of points, I am also absolutely convinced that the at-time porous Auburn defense is going to be completely and utterly overwhelmed (eventually) by the Ducks’ relentless offensive attack. Maybe the Tigers will hold the Ducks in check for a quarter. Maybe they’ll pen up James and frustrate quarterback Darron Thomas (for a while). Maybe they’ll even go into the half with the lead. But eventually, the Ducks are going to break a big play. And then another. And then another. Because I’m not sure this bunch can actually be stopped. OREGON 48, AUBURN 31