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Auburn-Oregon smackdown caps the season

It's the game the entire country has been waiting for: No. 1 Auburn vs. No. 2 Oregon for the BCS national championship.

The long wait and buildup is nearly over. On Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz., the Tigers and Ducks will finally meet on the field (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.) to decide which team is the best in the land.

It's Gene Chizik vs. Chip Kelly. It's Cam Newton vs. LaMichael James.

"Coach [offensive coordinator Gus] Malzahn always says, 'The moment can never be too big for a player to make a play,' " Newton, the Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, said earlier this month during a news conference for the game. "We have to believe that as much as anything for this game. It's probably the biggest game of everybody's career right now, but we can't look at it as if it's something with that great magnitude. We just have to go out and play Auburn football like we've been playing every week in the past."

Auburn (13-0) has had some close calls on the field this season. And the Tigers have also had to deal with off-the-field problems involving Newton. The NCAA ruled in early December that Cecil Newton, Cam's father, tried to engage in a pay-for-play plan with schools when Cam Newton was deciding to play for either Mississippi State or Auburn.

But Auburn swept through a tough SEC schedule - including rallying from 24-0 down at Alabama in the Iron Bowl - and won the conference title to land in Glendale.

Newton had one of the greatest seasons in recent memory. Newton, in his first season at Auburn, threw for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns. He also ran for 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns.

"I don't recall a lot of lows with him, but I recall a lot of highs," Chizik, Auburn's head coach, said of Newton during a news conference for the BCS title game. "I'm just impressed with him, period, both as a person on and off the field and the way he has progressed as a football player for us in this system week by week. Obviously, he's one of the huge reasons why we're here, along with many others."

Oregon (12-0) blew through its Pac-10 schedule with a high-powered offense, capable of striking quickly at any point of a game. By the time the Ducks got to the Civil War game against Oregon State, Oregon had clinched the Pac-10 title. The Ducks, however, couldn't secure a spot in Glendale until winning that game.

Oregon is No. 2 nationally in total offense (538 yards a game), No. 4 in rushing offense (304 yards a game) and No. 1 in scoring offense (49 points a game).

To compare, Auburn is No. 7 in total offense (498 yards a game), No. 6 in rushing offense (287 yards a game) and No. 6 in scoring offense (43 points a game).

Auburn has Newton. Oregon has James, who has rushed for 1,682 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. James finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Chizik and Kelly, Oregon's head coach, have both picked up coach of the year awards this season.

Basically, it should be a great matchup.

"You don't get to be an undefeated team, whether you're us or them, and it's not one guy," Kelly told reporters after a recent practice. "Obviously, Cam is the best player in college football. They've got an outstanding offensive line. They have a tight end that just seems to have a knack to make plays all over the field. It's a total team - offense, defense and special teams."

 

Jan. 1

TicketCity Bowl: Northwestern vs. Texas Tech (ESPNU, noon). Northwestern was 6-2 at one point, but fell apart down the stretch. The Wildcats lost three of four, lost starting quarterback Dan Persa to a season-ending injury and the defense allowed 170 points in the final four games. Texas Tech's defense wasn't great this season, but the offense, led by quarterback Taylor Potts, can put up points.

Capital One Bowl: No. 16 Alabama vs. No. 9 Michigan State (ESPN, 1 p.m.). A BCS-worthy matchup with the defending national champion Crimson Tide playing an 11-1 Spartans team that got snubbed by not getting a BCS at-large bid.

Outback Bowl: Florida vs. Penn State (ABC, 1 p.m.). Two 7-5 national powers in Tampa. The attention, however, will be on the coaches. At just 46 years old, Florida's Urban Meyer coaches his final game with the Gators. Meanwhile, Penn State's Joe Paterno, who just turned 84, keeps on going.

Gator Bowl: Michigan vs. No. 21 Mississippi State (ESPN2, 1:30 p.m.). Rich Rodriguez could certainly use a win to calm things in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines will be in their first bowl game since 2007. Mississippi State has enjoyed a solid season under Dan Mullen. Remember, the Bulldogs lost by only three points to Auburn and lost in overtime to Arkansas.

Rose Bowl: No. 3 TCU vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (ESPN, 5 p.m.). It's definitely an intriguing matchup. Wisconsin's massive offensive line against TCU's small but fast defensive front is one matchup to watch. If Wisconsin can get its running game of John Clay, James White and Montee Ball going, the Badgers should be able to control this game.

Fiesta Bowl: Connecticut vs. No. 7 Oklahoma (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.). This could end up being a big mismatch. But the Huskies can make it interesting if they can get Jordan Todman some running room and force some turnovers. Oklahoma's offense, with Landry Jones at the helm, can be devastating. The only concern for the Sooners could be history. Bob Stoops hasn't had a lot of success in BCS bowls.

Jan. 3

Orange Bowl: No. 4 Stanford vs. No. 13 Virginia Tech (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.). Virginia Tech has a lot of athletes on offense, with quarterback Tyrod Taylor enjoying his best season as a Hokie. The Hokies have a variety of running options to wear down a defense. Stanford is the more physical team. Plus, quarterback Andrew Luck was a Heisman finalist. The Stanford defense allowed only 18 points per game this season with three shutouts.

Jan. 4

Sugar Bowl: No. 8 Arkansas vs. No. 6 Ohio State (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.). This should be a great matchup. Ohio State will be looking to snap its streak of losses to SEC teams in bowl games. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett and his talented cast of offensive weapons will test Ohio State's secondary. Meanwhile, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor will be looking to follow up last year's superb performance in the Rose Bowl.

Jan. 6

GoDaddy.com Bowl: Middle Tennessee vs. Miami (Ohio) (ESPN, 8 p.m.). Miami, the surprise winner of the Mid-American Conference title game, will be without head coach Michael Haywood, who was hired by Pittsburgh. Middle Tennessee had to win its final three games to become bowl eligible.

Jan. 7

Cotton Bowl: No. 11 LSU vs. No. 17 Texas A&M (Ch. 5, 8 p.m.). One of the better matchups of the bowl season. LSU's two losses came against Auburn and Arkansas. Texas A&M has been one of the hottest teams in the country with six straight wins.

Jan. 8

BBVA Compass Bowl: Kentucky vs. Pittsburgh (ESPN, noon). It's not known if Dave Wannstedt, who announced that he was stepping down as head coach, will coach in this game. Meanwhile, Kentucky will be without starting quarterback Mike Hartline, who has been suspended.

Jan. 9

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Boston College vs. No. 15 Nevada (ESPN, 9 p.m.). An interesting matchup of Nevada's No. 3-ranked rushing offense (306 yards per game) against Boston College's top-ranked rush defense (80 yards per game). But the Eagles will have two 1,000-yard rushers to contend with: Colin Kaepernick and Vai Taua.

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