SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For weeks all Oregon has heard is how the big-bodied brutes from the SEC are going to push it all over the field, driving home the point that Southern-style football trumps all.
For weeks all Auburn has heard is how the fleet-footed fliers from the Pac-10 are going to run circles around its plodding defenders, once and for all proving that West Coast speed is king.
The great debate – Auburn’s power and size vs. Oregon’s speed and elusiveness – will be settled at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale tonight, when, after 37 days of preparation, the No. 1 Tigers and No. 2 Ducks meet in the BCS championship game.
“It’s hard for everybody. I think that’s the nature of the sport,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said. “We can’t simulate (quarterback) Cam Newton. No one can. ... I think it is difficult on both sides of the ball just because no one has scout players that are good enough to really give you exactly the speed and tempo that we practice at.”
The teams’ styles fall in line with the conventions of their conferences.
Oregon pushes the pace better than anyone in the country, moving at what Auburn head coach Gene Chizik calls “warp speed.” It’s not unusual for the Ducks to run plays 10 to 13 seconds after the referee sets the ball from the previous play, the goal being to cause confusion on defense and wear teams down.
The Tigers might be better equipped to handle it than most teams in the country – Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s no-huddle scheme is based on being fast – but even they concede it’s faster than anything they’ve seen.
“Their pace is unmatched by anybody in the nation,” Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes. “I’ve haven’t seen a pace like that against any opponent this year. It’s insane for one, and their speed is outrageous.”
That blazing speed is across the board, highlighted by running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner, who both run track.
“I think they’re loaded with speed from beginning to end,” Chizik said. “It is just the tempo is what everybody talks about. But the reality of it is they have got some really great players on that offense, and let’s not lose sight of that.”
Although Auburn’s defense has generally fared better against power-based teams (think LSU) than those with smaller, shiftier backs (think Kentucky), defensive coordinator Ted Roof doesn’t believe his team is slow.
Asked endlessly this week about how fast Auburn’s defense actually is, Roof finally shot back, “Fast enough to win 13 games.”
The Ducks are probably as tired of hearing about the Tigers’ size advantage. Auburn’s offensive line outweighs Oregon’s defensive front by 45 pounds a man and Newton is bigger than eight of the Ducks’ defensive starters.
A glance at Auburn’s defensive front reminds Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich of some standout teams on the West Coast of recent vintage.
“The great USC teams in the past are probably the closest representation of just the size, the speed, the strength of these guys,” he said. “You know, we don’t see these guys on a weekly basis for sure.”
It’s the norm for the Ducks, however.
“Have you ever seen any other team we played?” James said. “Everybody’s bigger than us. So I don’t think that really matters. I think we are probably the smallest team in college football. Size doesn’t matter at all.”
The Ducks have tried just as hard to ignore talk of the mighty SEC, which produced the last four BCS national champions.
“We can play football with anyone,” Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris said.
“We’ll line up with any team and we’ll go toe-to-toe. If the SEC thinks they’re going to just walk over us because they’re the SEC and we’re the Pac-10, then they’ve got another thing coming to them.”
BCS CHAMPIONSHIP Game
No. 1 Auburn (13-0) vs. No. 2 Oregon (12-0), 5:37 p.m., ESPN
What’s at stake: For Auburn, its first national championship since 1957. For Oregon, its first national championship, period. The Tigers could also make it five straight national championships – between four teams – for the SEC. Oregon could become the first Pac-10 team to win a BCS title other than USC.
Auburn player to watch: QB Cam Newton. Defenses and scandals have done nothing to slow the Heisman Trophy winner. The 250-pound All-American became the first SEC player to run for more than 1,000 yards and pass for more than 2,000 yards.
Oregon player to watch: RB LaMichael James. The nation’s leading rusher with 1,682 yards finished third in the Heisman voting. The All-American isn’t the biggest guy, 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, but he’s speedy and tough enough to run between the tackles.
Facts and Figures: Oregon leads the nation in scoring at 49.4 points per game and is second in total offense at 597 yards per game. ... Auburn is sixth in scoring at 42.7 points and seventh in total offense at 497 yards per game. ... This is the first BCS championship game in which both teams started the season ranked outside the AP top 10. ... Ducks QB Darron Thomas has 28 touchdown passes, second-best in school history behind Akili Smith’s 32 in 1998. ... Auburn has eight come-from-behind victories, four from double digits. ... Both Oregon coach Chip Kelly and Auburn coach Gene Chizik are in their second seasons in their jobs.
The Associated Press