Change is coming to the national title game, though it has nothing to do with any of those BCS busters you heard about all season.
Southeastern Conference champion Auburn and Pac-10 champ Oregon each will be making their first trip to the BCS title game, a rarity for the biggest showdown of the bowl season.
The top-ranked Tigers and No. 2 Ducks will bring perfect records and potent offenses to Glendale, Ariz., for their Jan. 10 matchup.
“It will be a night of fireworks in Glendale,” Fiesta Bowl president John Junker said.
All the Bowl Championship Series pairings were made official Sunday night, but the championship game announcement was just a formality after Auburn and Oregon completed their unbeaten runs through regular season Saturday.
Oregon players gathered with friends and family in a lounge at the athletic complex on campus to watch as the BCS lineup was revealed on television. There wasn’t a peep in the room when Oregon (12-0) popped up on the screen at No. 2 in the final BCS standings behind first-place Auburn (13-0). It was typical Ducks: all business.
“There was no surprise to anybody that we were going to be one or two,” defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. “I think you’d have had a great response if you’d seen us down there four or five.”
Across the country, Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens had trouble putting his emotions into words. “It’s just an amazing feeling,” he said. “We’ve put in all that hard work (to) see our dreams unfold.”
Those outsiders from TCU and Boise State were closer than ever before to playing for college football’s biggest prize. But the third-ranked Horned Frogs, the nation’s only other undefeated team, couldn’t overcome playing in the lightly regarded Mountain West Conference and will have to settle for a trip to the Rose Bowl to play No. 4 Wisconsin, the Big Ten co-champion.
“I think we’ve done a lot, not just what TCU’s done, but non-automatic qualifying schools,” TCU quarterback Andy Dalton said. “We still have one more game, and we’ll go out and prove how we play and hopefully people will see that.”
As for Boise State, one loss was one too many, and the Broncos ended up out of the BCS and in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas, playing No. 20 Utah.
The other BCS matchups announced Sunday were: Arkansas and Ohio State, which also won a share of the Big Ten title, in the Sugar Bowl; Big 12 champion Oklahoma taking on Big East co-champ Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl; and No. 5 Stanford playing ACC title-winner Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
While teams from the power conferences will play for the biggest prize of all, the Tigers and Ducks still represent a changing of the guard in their own way.
Since the BCS was born in 1998, its title game has almost always been stocked with college football’s blue bloods and programs with championship pedigrees.
Auburn has one national title to its credit — and it came in 1957. That’s one more than Oregon has. In fact, the Ducks are just the second team in the 13-year history of the BCS to reach the championship game looking for the program’s first national title. Virginia Tech was the first in 1999.
Also, this title game will be just the second, not including the inaugural BCS championship in 1998, with two teams that have never been there before. The other was in 2001, when Nebraska and Miami — not exactly a couple of upstarts — played for the crystal ball.
Another first: Never before have two teams that started the season ranked outside the AP top 10, played for the BCS title.
The Ducks began the year ranked 11th in the AP poll, with questions at quarterback after Heisman Trophy hopeful Jeremiah Masoli was kicked off the team.
The Tigers were even further back, second in their own state to Nick Saban’s defending national champions at Alabama and No. 22 in the nation. Plus, they were breaking in a junior college transfer at quarterback.
Oregon never missed Masoli as coach Chip Kelly simply plugged Darron Thomas into his fast-paced spread offense and watched his team lead the nation in scoring.
The fashion plates of college football, thanks to the ever-changing uniforms provided by alum and Nike founder Phil Knight, Oregon reached No. 1 in the rankings for the first time this season and emphatically replaced USC as the Pac-10’s team to beat with its second straight conference title.
As for Auburn, that JUCO transfer turned out to be the story of the year on and off the field.
Cam Newton has been peerless as a player, the nation’s top-rated passer and its 15th-best runner.
“I think cam Newton can play for anybody, including the NFL,” Kelly said. “He can throw it and he can run it. He’s the top football player in the country.”
By the time he gets to Arizona, Newton will most likely have the Heisman Trophy to prove it.
“There were several moments (this season) where we said this guy is going to be different from most,” second-year Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
It’s just as likely unanswered questions about an NCAA investigation into Newton’s recruitment will be following the Tigers to Glendale, too.
The NCAA determined Newton’s father, Cecil, tried to peddle his son to Mississippi State for cash, but said there was no evidence Cam or Auburn knew about it.
So when the ruling came down last week, Cam Newton avoided punishment and the sports governing body let the QB play on. He denied any wrongdoing after the SEC championship game Saturday.
While the NCAA will keep on looking into the pay-to-play scheme, there’s no reason to believe his status will change between now and the championship game.
With Newton on one side and Ducks tailback LaMichael James, another Heisman hopeful, on the other, this has the makings of one wild championship.
Who says defense wins?
The Ducks are averaging 537.5 yards per game and 49 points. James leads the nation in rushing in an offense that is simple yet breathtaking.
Kelly, who five years ago was offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, has taken high-speed football to a new level. In their season-ending, 37-20 victory against Oregon State on Saturday, none of the Ducks’ six scoring drives lasted longer than 2 minutes, 43 seconds.
Newton and the Tigers like to play fast, too.
“We’re different but I think we have some similar philosophies,” Kelly said. “They obviously run their quarterback a whole heck of lot more than we do.”
Auburn’s spread averages 498 yards per game and the Tigers are averaging 43 points.
They were never better than Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Newton threw four touchdown passes and ran for two more scores in a 56-17 demolition of South Carolina to win the Southeastern Conference championship.
As has become customary, the SEC champion moves on to play for the national title. The Tigers will try to make it five straight BCS titles for the country’s best conference.
The Ducks will try to become the first Pac-10 team other than USC to finish the season No. 1 in both the AP and coaches’ polls.