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January 10, 2011

Dienhart: Can Ducks derail SEC express?

MORE: BCS Title Game Central

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Let's just go ahead and say it because we all know it's true: The SEC is the nation's best conference.

And Auburn will hammer home that point Monday night in the BCS national championship game against Oregon.

The SEC's dominance in the BCS title game is all the proof any sane, rational, pom-pon shaking college football fan needs. The SEC has won the past four BCS national championships, with Florida winning in 2006 and 2008, LSU winning in 2007 and Alabama winning in 2009.

Bread and butter

The zone read option has been good to both of these teams and is a major reason each is in the BCS title game.

It's a simple play that is the bread and butter call for each school.

Lined up in the shotgun with a running back on the right, the quarterback takes the snap. Oregon's Darron Thomas or Auburn's Cam Newton immediately reads what the defensive end on the right is doing.

If the end crashes toward the running back, the quarterback fakes a hand off and keeps the ball.

If the end doesn't crash toward the running back, Thomas or Newton hand off to LaMichael James or Michael Dyer.

Each offense also has various pass plays off the zone read and other running calls, but the above read is the base option in the play.

Auburn Oregon
Auburn logo

Of Auburn's 84 scoring drives in regulation, 34 have taken less than two minutes off the clock, while 17 have taken more than four minutes. Twenty-eight used just four plays or fewer, while 24 other have used nine plays or more. And Auburn had four scoring drives of 90 yards or more.

The Tigers have run 33 plays that covered at least 35 yards, including 22 that resulted in touchdowns. Seven of the plays, all touchdowns, covered at least 68 yards.

Oregon logo

Of Oregon's 71 scoring drives resulting in touchdowns, 35 have taken five plays or less and 24 have lasted 56 seconds or less. The Ducks already have set a school record for scoring with 592 points.

The Ducks have 53 plays of 25 yards or longer, 22 of 40 or more yards, eight of 60 or more yards and four of 70-plus yards. Of the 53 big plays, 27 have resulted in touchdowns.

"It would mean a lot to continue that," Auburn wide receiver Darvin Adams said. "We know we have the SEC title, but we just have to go out and play our game."

Auburn's "game" has been Cameron Newton running, throwing and generally dominating in what has been one of the most impressive performances college football has seen in recent memory. Newton physical skills are well-documented, as the 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior is a freakish combination of size and speed.

"Right when he walked out and we saw him in his uniform [at spring practice], that's when we said, 'Wow. I hope he can play like he looks,' " Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.

He can. And he has.

Newton is the poster child for a tough, physical team that embodies the rugged and physical style that Chizik preaches. And it's that toughness that makes Auburn -- and SEC football -- great.

"The physicality of the game -- that's what makes the SEC great," Auburn defensive tackle Zach Clayton said. "We are used to taking a beating week in and week out. When we play someone from a different league, I don't think they are as physical as us."

Or as battle-tested.

Resiliency has been a hallmark for these Tigers. Four times, Auburn has rallied from double-digit deficits to win games. Go ahead, Oregon, punch Auburn in the nose. The Tigers may buckle, but they won't fold.

"I think the brotherhood of this team, a lot of guys just leaning on each other," Tigers safety Zac Etheridge said. "We're not getting distracted, we're not worried about the outside, just playing for each other every game."

This all will be too much for Oregon. The Ducks haven't seen anything like this. Auburn will win, adding to the trophy case for the SEC, which is dominating its sport like few other entities in team sports today.

"Why has the SEC been so dominant?" Adams asked. "I can't explain it. We have a lot of great teams, and the competition is very high. Not taking anything away from other leagues, but each week is a grind."

That grind and high level of competition has paid off in a deep and talented conference. That three schools have won the national title in the past four seasons speaks of the quality depth of the SEC.

The Oregon players know all about this. They have heard all about the big, bad SEC. They have heard about the speed, the size, the depth, the talent, the athletic ability, the general all-around awesomeness of SEC football. And they basically shrug their shoulders.

"It doesn't really mean anything to me or any of the other guys who we are playing," Oregon offensive tackle Bo Thran said. "We are football players. It doesn't matter what league they are from.

"We can't get caught up in, 'This conference is better than another conference.' We will represent the Pac-10 well. We will come out and play our game and not focus on what conference a team is from. They are really good. But it doesn't matter where they are from."

Yes, it does. Recent history tells us the SEC stands alone. In addition to league teams winning each of the past four BCS crowns, LSU won it all in 2003 and Auburn could have played for the championship in 2004 with a 13-0 record but was left out.

"Most definitely," Etheridge said when asked if the SEC is the best league. "That is why I chose to play in this conference -- because it is the best. "

Bottom line: The SEC has won five of the past seven national championships. That's New York Yankees/Chicago Bulls/Edmonton Oilers dominant.

"We don't want to be the team that ends that streak," Etheridge said. "We will do whatever we can to keep the streak going."

Oregon coach Chip Kelly says his team isn't playing for the Pac-10, that his Ducks aren't carrying the flag for nine other teams, that he's only worried about his team and its preparation. Meanwhile, Auburn oozes SEC pride.

"A loss would be very disappointing for the team and conference in general," Clayton said.

Overall, the league is 6-0 in the BCS title game, with Tennessee setting the tone by winning the first BCS title in 1998. That's six titles in 13 seasons. No conference can match that resume.

"I think the perspective of it is the SEC is the premiere conference, the power running that they dominate every other conference with," Oregon linebacker Spencer Paysinger said. "And the Pac-10 is the little brother to the other conferences and has a little more finesse and spread people out."

Yes, that sounds about right.

Oregon is a big-time team. The Ducks are 12-0, featuring the top offense in the nation and one of the best coaches in Kelly.

"Looking at the film, this Oregon team has as much speed as any team in the SEC," said Auburn wide receiver coach Trooper Taylor, the assistant who's always waving the towel on the sideline. "I'm telling you, this is a great team."

But not good enough to beat this Auburn team.

"We are not playing for the Pac-10," Kelly said. "They are not -- in my opinion, they are not playing for the SEC. It is Auburn versus Oregon. I don't think you can look at past successes and say, 'Hey, this conference did this, this conference did this.' You have no idea."

Oh, yes, we do. The SEC will rule.


Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.

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