Ducks better off as 'dogs

Late surge in polls makes Auburn the team to beat

December 09, 2010|By Chris Dufresne, Tribune Newspapers

Oregon sitting on top never did quite sit right, but we can report order has been fully and faithfully restored.

Someone down at the sanity office got wind before it was too late and priority-rushed Auburn to the fore, while simultaneously returning the Southeastern Conference Network to regularly scheduled deprogramming.

Whew, that was close.

Only days ago, the Ducks were college football's jet-set juggernauts and Auburn was the team trailing Georgia 21-7. The Pacific-10, for weeks, was rated as the nation's top conference.

Then someone apparently ordered saliva tests.

Without Oregon losing a game, Auburn jumped the Ducks in the polls and the Bowl Championship Series standings, and the SEC used its gravitational gravitas to pull ahead of the Pac-10 in this week's Sagarin Ratings.

What a relief. The early betting lines for the Jan. 10 BCS title game have established Auburn as the favorite.

This is exactly the way it should be — and the way Oregon should want it. Oregon was hatched to be the underduck.

No respectable public was going to buy the SEC in a subservient role. The conference has captured four straight BCS titles and six of the 12 played. It's so tough that Florida coach Urban Meyer has decided — again — he should spend more time with the family. The SEC is 6-0 in title games, while Oregon is the first Pac-10 team other than USC to play in one.

Cam Newton vs. Darron Thomas at quarterback? That's a lineup introduction maybe, but not an argument.

The SEC, after a shaky start, strong-armed the season's second half. It got back on message and even wished the Newton scandal into the cornfield like creepy Billy Mummy did in that "Twilight Zone" episode.

Oregon became a "good as they got out there" Left Coast team, with the Pac-10 begging for one more ladle of soup before returning to second in line.

With a month of storylines to go before the big event, we at least now have a plausible, workable premise, and Oregon can start game-planning with Auburn as the ogre.

Nick Aliotti, the Ducks' defensive coordinator, is already on the appropriate defensive. After the BCS pairings announcement Sunday, in the lobby of Oregon's Casanova Center, Aliotti sized up the challenge of stopping all 6-foot-6 and 247 pounds of Newton.

"I think he's bigger than eight of our defensive starters," Aliotti said.

That's not even an exaggeration.

Thomas, the Ducks' QB, has passed for 28 TDs and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Yet he knows he's a web-footed mallard in comparison with Newton, who has passed for 28 TDs and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

Wait … never mind.

"Ah, he's a big-time player," Thomas gushed of Newton. "I've just got to worry about their defense, not Cam Newton."

To think that "Oregon favored over Auburn" was about to become this year's "Man Bites Duck."

Thank grit-ness the headline was aborted — just in time.

Blitz package: In the final USA Today coaches poll, Meyer voted Oregon No. 1 over Auburn. (Note: He said it was nothing against former Gators quarterback Newton.) Idaho's Robb Akey voted TCU No. 1 and Boise State No. 14. (Note: Bitter rival Boise State led Idaho 38-0 at halftime en route to a 52-14 win.)

•Nebraska coach Bo Pelini voted his three-loss team, which lost to 5-7 Texas at home, No. 8. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio voted his team No. 4, five spots better than MSU's final BCS ranking.

•New Mexico coach Mike Locksley voted Virginia Tech No. 10, six spots ahead of Boise State. He was among 19 of the 59 coaches (32.2 percent) who ranked two-loss Virginia Tech ahead of one-loss Boise State. Twenty-six of 114 Harris Poll voters (22.8 percent) had Virginia Tech ahead. The Hokies' losses were to Boise State and James Madison. Boise State's defeat was in overtime at Nevada, ranked No. 14 in Harris and No. 15 in USA Today.

cdufresne@tribune.com

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