Cavalcade of Whimsy
Dec. 13 - Week 15, Part 2
Dec. 13 - SMU, the FWAA &
Cam, and more Big Ten names
The C.O.W. airing of the grievances followed by the feats of strength
Ten reasons why Oregon will win the BCS Championship. Don’t get mad, Auburn fans, next week will be the ten reasons why the Tigers will win. We’ll get into the nuts and bolts of the matchup later next week in the bowl previews. These are ten non-X-and-O reasons …
It’s not like the scrutiny and the digging on the Cam Newton situation will stop. Auburn was able to bury the controversy in the fog and the speed of the season, focusing on one game at a time, one series at a time, and always relying on Cam to come through when needed. Now Newton gets to go on the rubber chicken circuit, and while Mark Ingram and Matt Leinart have proven that it’s possible to win a Heisman and a national title in the same year, it doesn’t help that there’s six weeks of lag time between the end of the season and the BCS Championship. Now the magnitude of all that has happened both on and off the field becomes real, and now the stakes are even higher. It’s one thing for Newton to come from out of left field to win the Heisman and the SEC title, but it’s another to now have to deal with dad, deal with the non-believers, and deal with all the pats on the back and all the pressure that will come with being a star of his magnitude. Remember, just three months ago Newton was just another SEC starting quarterback and few outside of the south had ever heard of him.
9. Speed, speed, speed
As strange as it might sound for an SEC team, Auburn hasn’t dealt with the speed and quickness like Oregon is about to bring on offense. It’s one thing to have six weeks to prepare for the Duck attack, but it’s another to try to simulate the precision and the quickness in just 15 practices. Auburn has only faced one team his year with a spread offense that moves well on the ground, Mississippi State, and while it only ran for 117 yards and two touchdowns, it was only a 17-14 final. The Bulldogs don’t move as fast or with the tempo that Oregon does, and while the Auburn defensive front seven is good and is certainly athletic enough to run with anyone, there’s a big question about whether or not it can make all the right decisions once it has to deal with the Ducks in live action which leads to ...
8. Tired Auburn defensive linemen
The biggest problem in the lag time between the end of the regular season and the bowl games is that teams get out of shape and out of sync. The Auburn defensive linemen are quick, agile, and really, really good, but once the Oregon offense starts humming, it’s a sprint and the Tigers should have a rough time keeping up. If this game was played in during the middle of the year when the season was in full swing and the linemen were in normal game shape, it might be a far different story. Instead, it’ll be interesting to see if the Tigers are sucking wind early on and to see if the mystery cramps and injuries that plagued Pac 10 defenses throughout the year happen in Glendale. Oregon strikes quickly and moves fast. Auburn also plays with great pace and tempo, but not like this.
7. He’s Gene Chizik
Before the 1997 season, I got into a debate with a friend of mind about Baltimore Raven QB Vinny Testaverde and laid out a detailed argument about why he was worthy of an early round pick in our fantasy draft. After coming off a 33-tocuhdown, 4,177-yard season, he was a hot prospect and I made a convincing case, and then my friend ended the discussion.
“But he’s Vinny Testaverde.”
But he’s Gene Chizik.
Is he really a top-shelf head coach, or does he happen to have an all-timer of a starting quarterback and the best offensive coordinator in the game in Gus Malzahn? Bill Belichick was a disaster at Cleveland before he became a god at New England, and Nick Saban wasn’t the Nick Saban at Michigan State, but Chizik’s time at Iowa State, going 5-19, was so awful, and his first year at Auburn was so mediocre, going 8-5 and sneaking by Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, that there’s a chance that this year is a bit of an aberration. Everything is coming together at once in a perfect storm, and while Chizik really has done a great job, is he Chip Kelly? Kelly’s rise has been meteoric, but he has been running this offense for the past four years at Oregon and it’s humming on all cylinders. There’s a chance that Oregon could win simply be outcoaching and outpreparing the Tigers.
6. Slow starts
Oregon isn’t the fastest starting team around, but it dominates late. Fortunately, Auburn doesn’t come out roaring. The Tigers were down 17 -3 at halftime against Clemson, 20-14 at halftime against South Carolina the first time around, was tied at ten against LSU, gave up 21 in the first half to Arkansas, was tied at 21 with Georgia, and, of course, got down 24-0 early against Alabama. Everything turned out to be fine for Auburn in each game, but considering Oregon usually doesn’t find its groove until around the 40 minute mark, if things hold to form, the game isn’t likely to be decided before going into the locker room. Auburn is great in the second halves of games, but Oregon is special. The longer the game is close, the more the Oregon offensive tempo will wear on the Tigers.
Only Hawaii came up with more takeaways than Oregon, and it played one extra game. Auburn doesn’t give the ball away with Cam only throwing six picks on the year and the fantastic ground game only fumbling it away nine times, but the Tiger defense doesn’t exactly dominate when it comes to takeaways with a pedestrian ten interceptions and ten fumble recoveries. The D has come up with just two fumbles over the last six games, both coming against Alabama, and picked off just two passes in the final four games, both against South Carolina. Oregon will turn the ball over and is good for at least a giveaway per game, more likely two, but the defense has been phenomenal at forcing mistakes with 35 takeaways on the year. Arizona State had the Ducks in trouble, but the Oregon D forced seven turnovers. Oregon State gave away four picks, and even stingy Stanford, who finished third in the nation in turnover margin, turned it over three times. Oregon has proven it can handle the adversity of a big giveaway. Auburn has to show it can overcome big mistakes against a great team.
4. Auburn’s pass defense
It really is an issue. Auburn is able to generate pressure from everywhere up front, but Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas is smart enough, and mobile enough, to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry. To belabor the tempo issue, the pass rush will be neutralized by the pace the Ducks will set with the Tiger front four unlikely to catch its breath enough to be a consistent threat. Thomas isn’t Newton as a thrower, but he’s good enough, and the team finished 19th in the nation in passing efficiency. The Duck offensive line can hold its own, and Auburn can’t get too creative with the pass rush for fear of LaMichael James blowing right by a blitz coming from the outside. Granted, the stats for the Auburn pass defense are a bit skewed because everyone had to bomb away to keep up, but the route running ability of Jeff Maehl and Drew Davis should be enough to keep the chains moving while keep the safeties honest. On the flip side, Oregon led the Pac 10 and was sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense. In other words, the secondary isn’t going to fall for the banana in the tailpipe.
3. The punting game
Little problems always seem to get magnified in games like this, and Auburn has a big problem when it comes to its punting game. Auburn’s punt coverage team isn’t all that bad, but the punting game has been miserable averaging an SEC-worst 34.7 yards net. Ryan Shoemaker hasn’t been needed with the team punting a mere 37 times on the year, but there hasn’t been too much boom on his blasts. Meanwhile, Oregon’s terrific defensive back, Cliff Harris, is second in the nation in punt returns averaging 19.46 yards per try, while the Ducks as a team lead the country averaging 18.19 yards net per return. The last thing the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense needs is a spark and good field position.
2. Oregon’s defensive line
Lost in the greatness of the Oregon offense is a defense that led the Pac Ten against the run and was 14th in the nation in points allowed. A major reason was an ultra-aggressive front four that helped lead the D with the most tackles for loss in the Pac 10, and it needs to hang out in the Auburn backfield all game long. It takes more than one player to bring down Newton, but Oregon has enough playmakers to send waves into the backfield.
6-7, 272-pound senior Brandon Bair is too tall for a defensive tackle, but he’s a monster when it comes to making big plays with a team-leading 15.5 tackles for loss. Second is Rose Bowl star Kenny Rowe with 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. In all, the senior-dominated starting Oregon defensive four has 148 combined career starts. Throw in the 115 career starts from the starting linebackers, led by senior Casey Matthews in the middle, and the 132 career stars from the top four defensive backs, and this is a veteran defense that isn’t going to be fazed by anything Auburn brings.
1. The underdog factor
Never underestimate just how angry great teams get at being the underdog. As the game gets closer, watch how the media makes it more and more about Auburn than Oregon. The lip service will be paid to how good the Ducks are, but then everyone will start to remember how well the SEC has done in BCS Championships, Newton will be hailed as the signature star trying to end on a high note, and the -3 spread will only increase as game time approaches. The expectation is soon going to be that Auburn is going to waltz into Glendale and come out with another notch in the SEC’s belt. The last time the national title was played in Arizona, the favorite also had a Heisman-winning quarterback leading an ultra-confidence team. Ohio State had a long, long day.
Random Acts of Nutty … Provocative musings and tidbits to make every woman want you and every man want to be you (or vice versa) a.k.a. things I didn’t feel like writing bigger blurbs for.
- How did Von Miller win the Butkus Award? He’s a linebacker like Denard Robinson is a running back. Yeah, Miller does work as a 3-4 outside presence, but he should win some sort of a Lawrence Taylor Award rather than the Butkus, and he wasn’t that great this year. Boston College’s Luke Kuechly was by far the nation’s best linebacker, but unfortunately, the good people of Pro Football Weekly ended up going by pro potential for its other finalists. In the latest issue of PFW, the top four rated pro outside linebackers are Miller, Bruce Carter, Akeem Ayers, and Justin Houston. All of them are hybrids, all of them were more like ends in college, and all of them were finalists for the Butkus over more deserving true collegiate linebackers like Washington’s Mason Foster and Kentucky’s Danny Trevathan.
- Urban Meyer’s leaving shows once again how amazing Joe Paterno’s career has been. That the two teams play in the Outback Bowl is a cool twist of fate.
- As I keep saying, all things football flow through me. I have an orange Florida hat that doesn’t quite fit and I haven’t worn for months. For some reason I decided to put it on last week, I went out to lunch, came back, and found out Urban Meyer was leaving. I wore my Auburn hat for the first time in weeks on the day the Newton story unexpectedly broke. I finally threw out the Clemson C.J. Spiller life size promotional poster, and he got hurt for the Bills later that day. Bruin fans, my UCLA hat hasn’t gotten off the pine in months. If you want Neuheisel gone, I can be bribed.
C.O.W. shameless gimmick item … The weekly five Overrated/Underrated aspects of the world
1) Overrated: Gus Malzahn not taking the Vanderbilt job … Underrated: Dana Holgorsen possibly taking the Pitt job
2) Overrated: Al Golden at Miami … Underrated: Jerry Kill at Minnesota
3) Overrated: Will Muschamp ... Underrated: “We’re Texas. We’ll find another good coordinator.”
4) Overrated: UConn women ... Underrated: UCLA men
5) Overrated: Pretentious fops and their articles about why they left Cam Newton off their Heisman ballot ... Underrated: Pretentious fops who roll their eyes at the pretentious fops and their articles about why they left Cam Newton off their Heisman ballot
“Tracy did mention we shouldn't let him gamble. Or drink too much.”… All the bowl picks to come next week. … Week 15 Results: 1) Navy -7 over Army (W, 31-17), 2) Auburn -3 over Oregon (To Come), 3) Nebraska -13 over Washington (To Come) … Record So Far: ATS 24-13-2
This week's picks: 1) UTEP +11.5 over BYU, 2) Fresno State +1 over Northern Illinois, 3) Troy -1.5 over Ohio
Sorry this column sucked, it wasn’t my fault … I only came to
Gainesville, and started this column, because Urban
Meyer promised me he'd be here my entire career.
Dec. 13 - SMU, the FWAA &
Cam, and more Big Ten names