GLENDALE, Ariz. – Oregon has the faster car. Auburn has the better driver. The college football season is a race to the finish.
Don’t blink Monday night during the BCS national championship game or you’ll miss the Ducks’ “blur” offense or Tigers quarterback Cam Newton streaking by.
The nation’s most entertaining teams are the last ones standing, making the game at University of Phoenix Stadium a college football grand finale.
“I know it’s a hot ticket,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
As hot as the participants: the top-ranked Tigers, 13-0, champions of the Southeastern Conference and college football’s ruling class, and the second-ranked Ducks, 12-0, the dominant champion of the Pac-10.
Neither was expected in the BCS title game. Both started the season ranked outside the top 10, and their process to perfection differed.
Four times this season, Auburn erased dou ble-digit deficits, with no hole deeper than the one it dug on Nov. 26 at Alabama.
The defending national champion and bitter rival Crimson Tide opened a 24-0 lead, and BCS analysts quickly were computing the Tigers’ chances of reaching the title game with one loss.
But as he did against Clemson, Georgia and South Carolina, Newton rallied the troops for an improbable 28-27 comeback.
“We’re all about finishing, and that’s why we’re here now,” Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes said.
Who could blame the Tigers for carrying a sense of invincibility?
“I think the chemistry or our team was built on the fact that we’ve had to win games about every way you can win them,” Chizik said. “We’ve had to win them late, with offense, defense and special teams. When you do that, it can’t do anything but help.”
It also doesn’t hurt to have the game’s best player.
In his major-college debut season, Newton has been the center of attention throughout the season – on and off the field.
In one of the most dominant individual seasons in the game’s history, Newton took over a team that finished 3-5 in the SEC and passed for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 1,409 and 20 TDs.
News broke about midway through the season that Newton’s father, Cecil, had tried to sell his son’s ability to Mississippi State for $180,000 after Cam’s year at Blinn Junior College in Texas.
The NCAA ruled Cam Newton didn’t know about this. He was ruled ineligible for one day and then reinstated. The investigation is ongoing.
“I look back on it and consider it a blessing,” Newton said. “I think the whole process has made me stronger.”
Oregon’s offense runs teams into exhaustion with a no-huddle spread that attacks on two levels. The Ducks’ team speed, starting with running back LaMichael James, is difficult enough to defend.
But with Oregon’s fast-forward approach, defenses are challenged to keep pace.
“It makes it so teams can’t sub,” said James. “That’s a big key for us. They get tired and have the wrong personnel in.”
Chizik said his Tigers will do all they can to slow down Oregon, including a pregame review of the rule book with the officiating crew from the Big Ten. Chizik said he’ll want the crew to be a stickler for the rule that allows defensive substitutions when the offense changes personnel.
“The officials meet with us before every game, and that will be a big discussion,” Chizik said.
Let it be, said Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
“When we want to play fast, we know the rules,” Kelly said. “If we’re trying to play at a fast tempo, we’re not trying to sub.”