by Robert Weintraub
Saturday was my fifth wedding anniversary, so instead of watching Oregon and Auburn battle down to the wire for the right to square off in the BCS championship game, I went out to dinner and saw The Social Network. I DVR'd the action, of course, but as it turned out, Cam Newton and LaMichael James took care of me. The Ducks and Tigers rolled to easy wins, setting up a collision of the two most exciting and voracious offensive teams in the country on January 10. Auburn averaged 42.7 points per game -- and fell well short of Oregon's 49.3. The Ducks and Tigers were first and fifth in the nation in scoring, respectively. They punted 36 times on the year, combined.
Auburn scored almost instantly against South Carolina in the SEC title game at the Georgia Dome, so it's tempting to say it was over right there. Cam Newton, a.k.a. "The Shoo-in," hit an early bomb to set up the score. On opening drives this season, Newton went 19-of-19 through the air for an even 300 yards and seven touchdowns (three passing, three rushing, and one receiving). The only words for that are "holy" and "s---."
But the opening drive of the second half was the critical series. Newton had hit a Hail Mary to close the first half and put Auburn up 28-14, but South Carolina was certainly still in it. The Gamecocks put together a strong drive, but they were forced to settle for a field goal. And Spencer Lanning missed it. Oh, if only Mr. Irrelevant, Ryan Succop, were still kicking for the Roosters!
Well, the life went out of the lads in red right there. Newton had Auburn in the end zone in about 6.2 seconds as punishment. He ran it in for his 20th running score on the season, joining Tim Tebow as the only players to both run and throw for 20-plus scores in a single season. Newton has accounted for 49 touchdowns this season, more than 87 FBS teams. Stephen Garcia threw a pick three plays later, and that was that. Auburn won 56-17, and the team carried Newton off the field and all the way to Glendale.
The Battering Cam demolished Gamecocks defensive back Antonio Allen on the run. Word from the Gamecocks locker room said that Allen offered Newton another $180,000 to go pro and spare the SEC more punishment. South Carolina's defense let the team down. The front four that has been the best unit on the team all year, leading the SEC in sacks, was overmatched against Auburn's unheralded offensive front.
It may be sacrilege to say this (literally), but Newton is better than the exalted Tebow. Now, Tebow did it for three full seasons, plus his situational, goal-line cameos as a freshman on Urban Meyer's first national title team. But Newton has reached greater heights, in my humble opinion, than Tebow reached. Remember, in Tebow's best statistical season, his sophomore year (2007), Florida finished 9-4 and lost in the Citrus Bowl to Michigan (the last relevant moment for the Wolverines). Newton is unbeaten and en route to the title game. We won't get into the off-field business, but purely as quarterbacks, I'll take Newton.
And Gary Danielson was right during the telecast when he said that Newton is not only a better passer at this point in his career than Tebow was, but Michael Vick and Vince Young as well. His arm might not have the pure strength of Vick's, but it's close enough, and he has accuracy and pocket presence that Vick didn't approach until this season. Vince as a senior was wondrous, but it wasn't until the several weeks of practice leading up to the Rose Bowl against Michigan as a junior that he displayed much command as a passer.
Oregon was in the Rose Bowl last season. They have upgraded to the BCS title game, thanks to the 4 x 100 relay team in the backfield and hellacious blocking by the front line and the wide receivers, an aspect often overlooked in Oregon's success. LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner broke out the stats - 134 yards, and 133 yards, respectively, and two scores apiece -- but it was the blocking on the edge that allowed it.
Saturday's Civil War against Oregon State was a rare occasion when the Ducks had the less ugly uniform in the game. They broke out an odd USFL looking silver and brown combo, choosing an strange time to sport unis without any of the school colors. But the Beavers chose to pay tribute to the 1967 team, the "Giant Killers" that defeated No. 1 USC and No. 2 Purdue (led by Messrs. Simpson and Griese, respectively). They looked like contestants from "Tron." And the '67 group didn't wear orange shoes with the ensemble. It was hard to watch.
While Oregon won comfortably in the end, 37-20, the Beavers fought hard, and it took some solid red-zone defense by the Ducks and a 64-yard rumble with a fake punt by upback Michael Clay to keep the upset nerves away. Oregon will have to show much more to beat Auburn, who, as I noted in Seventh Day Adventure, seem to have some magic dust sprinkled on them this season (see the final play of the first half in the Dome).
There seems little doubt that the game will be in doubt in the fourth quarter, anyway, unlike the respective penultimate games.
- Oklahoma came back from a 17-0 deficit to edge Nebraska 23-20 and take the Big 12 title, preventing the specter of the defending champ playing in a different conference next season. Oklahoma's pass rush was the difference, especially a gigantic hit on the final series by Tony Jefferson, a true freshman cornerback, that put the Huskers too far behind the chains to come back. The biggest play of the game may have been a timeout called by Bob Stoops before Nebraska could run a fake punt midway through the fourth quarter. Huskers coach Bo Pelini let loose with a fine collection of expletives when the timeout was called.
- For all the talk of Cam Newton and Denard Robinson and Darron Thomas and Taylor Martinez this season, Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor has cruised along under the radar. Taylor was his typical brilliant self in the ACC title game against Florida State, throwing for three scores and running for another that iced the 44-33 shootout win. He easily outdueled fellow Tidewater native E.J. Manuel. That's 11 straight wins for the Hokies, and an Orange Bowl berth that seemed quite unlikely after the 0-2 start and the mystifying loss to James Madison in early September.
- I'd like to thank June Jones for eschewing the field goal with 30 seconds to play, down by 17-7 to Central Florida in the Conference USA championship game. I was giving the 9.5 points to SMU, and a field goal would have given the Mustangs the cover. Instead, Jones called for a futile pass play. Kyle Padron was sacked. Game over. Rob cover.
- West Virginia pummeled Rutgers 35-14 to put pressure on UConn to win at night and clinch the Big East title. WVU athlete Tavon Austin scored twice, showing the same burst and elusiveness as scat-back Noel Devine. But the Huskies won dramatically at South Florida, 19-16, on a 52-yard field goal by Dave Teggert. The kick set couches aflame all across Morgantown, and sends UConn to the Fiesta Bowl.
- Pitt and Cincinnati playing in the snow brought back fond memories of last season's epic, won in the dying moments by the Bearcats to get to the BCS. Payback for the Panthers this year, with far less at stake, Pitt won 28-10. Dion Lewis, who went from preseason Heisman hopeful to afterthought searching futilely for holes behind a patchwork offensive line, had his best day of the season with 241 yards.
- Nice job by Cincy to have a backup mascot handy after the first-stringer was arrested for going all Philly and whipping snowballs at Pitt players, then getting chesty with security guards. If only the Bengals showed that kind of fire!
- Just doesn't seem fair that Boise had to play this week, after last weekend's shot to the solar plexus. Utah State did the kindly thing and caved in on the Smurf Turf, with Bose winning 50-14. All it gets the powerhouse Broncos is a date to destroy Utah in the MAACO Bowl.
- USC appropriately won the final game in Pac-10 history, 28-14, over cross-town rival UCLA. Next season it becomes the Pac-12 with Utah and Colorado.
- Arizona State won a ripping Territorial Cup against Arizona Friday night, as Alex Zendejas (of the Kicking Zendejaseses) had a night to rival Kyle Brotzman. Zendejas had an extra point blocked with 27 seconds left to force overtime. ASU then blocked another PAT in the second overtime, allowing the Sun Devils to slip away with a 30-29 win. James Brooks rejected both kicks by channeling R.C. Owens, leaping high and swatting the low-liners out of the sky.
- ASU finishes 6-6, but because two of the wins came against FCS schools, the Devils were denied a waiver by the NCAA to go bowling. Blame San Jose State -- the Spartans pulled out of a date with the Sun Devils, and Arizona State had no option but to fill the schedule spot with a small-school opponent. The national outcry doesn't figure to be loud.
- It was a tough Friday night for the Land of Lincoln. Northern Illinois, who had been bashing MAC opposition all season, conjured a way to lose to heavy underdog Miami (OH). The Redhawks, who were 1-11 last season, bottled up Chad Spann, the MAC's top rusher, and tossed a deflected touchdown pass (thrown by a freshman making his third start of the season) with 33 seconds left to pull the shocker. Meanwhile, the big state school in Champaign was tripped up in the Central California Valley. Fresno State, protecting a two-point lead late in the fourth quarter, went for it on fourth-and-1, and converted by a whisker -- do Bulldogs have whiskers? Fresno held on for a 25-23 win over the Illini.
- Yes, that's the little sister WAC bustin' the mighty Big Ten, Mr. Gee, you jackwagon.
The OFI Top 25
6. Ohio State
8. Michigan State
9. Boise State
10. Virginia Tech
15. Texas A&M
17. Oklahoma State
21. South Carolina
22. Central Florida
23. Mississippi State
25. Miami (OH)
1. Lee Ziemba, Mike Perry, Ryan Pugh, Byron Isom, Brandon Mosely, offensive line, Auburn. Cam & Co. get all the publicity, but if it weren't for the veteran offensive line (four seniors and a junior), the Tigers wouldn't be headed for Arizona. They had another sensational game on Saturday, dominating South Carolina's excellent front four and opening wide running lanes. As most won't be returning next season, don't count on Newton being back, either.
2. Dave Teggart, kicker, UConn. Teggart kicked the Huskies to the BCS with a 52-yarder, his fourth field goal of the game. To call this the biggest kick in program history is like calling a supertanker your average boat.
3. Derrell Acrey, linebacker, Boise State. Acrey blew away Boise's hangover after the Nevada loss by intercepting a pass on the game's first play and returning it 31 yards for a touchdown.
4. James Brooks, defensive end, Arizona State. See above. ASU's kicker, Thomas Weber, gets honorable mention for his five field goals under pressurized conditions.
5. Travis Lewis, linebacker, Oklahoma. His two fumble recoveries and an interception, all leading to 13 critical points, helped the Sooners beat Nebraska in a tough Big 12 title game.
Since the bowls are something of a separate season, this spells the end of the 2010 campaign in terms of awards. My Heisman vote, if I had one, would of course go to Cam Newton. Not close. As for the Lowsman Trophy, it comes down to Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson. The fifth invitee to my man cave in Decatur, Georgia, would be Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who isn't the fifth best non-skill guy but combines excellence with utter madness in a compelling way.
And the winner is ...
And with that, One Foot Inbounds steps aside for a few weeks. I'll be back writing with Bill Connelly and Brian Fremeau as part of the sort-of biweekly Seventh Day Adventure bowl previews, starting on December 17.