Auburn v. Oregon – There Can Only Be ONE

Featured, Sports — By on December 8, 2010 at 8:00 am

Last year, Chad Gibbs flew me out to Birmingham, Alabama to see a football game between his beloved Auburn Tigers and the West Virginia Mountaineers.  Ostensibly, Chad was doing this for his book, God and Football – Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC.  He claimed he wanted a perspective from outside the Southeastern Conference.  Really, though, Chad was trying to convert me.

He succeeded on some level.  Since then, even before then, I have cheered on the Auburn Tigers.  It’s hard to root against Chad, who’s one of my favorite people in the world.  In college football, though, you can really only cheer for one team, and my one team is the Oregon Ducks.  It has been the Oregon Ducks since I was young.

The Tigers seemed a safe choice, though.  The SEC and Pac-10 champions don’t cross paths all that often.  Plus, Auburn is the plucky underdog in the state of Alabama.  I like plucky underdogs, but being a Ducks fan means I root for my state’s dominant program.  Rooting against Evil Empires makes me feel a little better about myself.

So this was all a year ago.  In God and Football, Chad calls me up a few weeks after his trip.  Here’s an excerpt:

We talked about this year, his trip to Auburn, and then he went on and on about how his Oregon Ducks were destined for the Rose Bowl.  I was crushed.

“So,” I conceded, “I guess you didn’t become an Auburn fan after your trip.”

“Well,” Jordan said sheepishly, ” I cheer for you guys, but if Oregon needed Auburn to lose, well, I’d want you to lose.”

Then a weird thing happened.  This year, Oregon and Auburn won every game they played.  They both won yesterday, with Auburn torturing South Carolina in the SEC Championship, and Oregon beating Oregon State handily in the Civil War.  In five weeks, Oregon and Auburn will meet in the BCS National Championship at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, which is approximately 30 minutes from where I live.  I cheered Auburn on every step of the way, even if it meant the Ducks would face Cam Newton.  I should’ve wanted them to lose…I’d feel much better facing TCU with a National Championship on the line…but part of meI wanted things to play out this way.  And now, after 6 months of Auburn being my second favorite team in college football, I want them to lose.  Badly.

The Michael is awesome.

Chad and I are thrilled to be in this situation.  It’s quite possible this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, though both Auburn and Oregon were notoriously robbed of chances at the National Championship in the last decade (Oregon in 2002, and Auburn in 2005).  We thought it would be fun to talk about the game, especially since we’ve got five weeks to kill.  We will try and remain friends.

Jordan Green: First, did you think Auburn had a legitimate chance at the national championship before the season began?

Chad Gibbs: I’m unfailingly optimistic, so anytime Auburn plays football, whether it be against the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the New England Patriots, I expect Auburn to win.  So going into this season, like any other season, I found a way to convince myself that every game on the schedule was winnable.

Jordan: I don’t know if I thought Oregon stood a chance, but I did think at the beginning of the season that the Ducks playing in the National Championship game would be awesome considering I live so close to Glendale.  Before Jeremiah Masoli became a moron last year, I was sure we stood a good shot.  I wasn’t as sure after, but I knew Nate Costa and Darron Thomas were at least solid.

From what you know of these two teams, how do you think this game will play out?

Chad: I’ve only watched a few quarters of Oregon football.  They seem to play late at night on channels I don’t get. (Editor’s Note: Three of Oregon’s games were hosted by ESPN Gameday, and another few were on ABC, but I suppose that’s splitting hairs.) But from what I’ve seen, the Ducks have a great team this year, particularly on offense.  Both teams will have to deal with the five week layoff, and I suspect this could hurt Oregon more than Auburn, because the Ducks’ offense is built around timing.  Actually I’m not sure if I believe that or not.  I just heard a guy on the radio say it and I thought I’d repeat it here and sound smart.  I do know Cam Newton, Auburn’s quarterback, is bigger than all but one of Oregon’s starting defenders.  So I like to think Auburn will be able to pound the ball on offense, but if I’m honest, I don’t know enough about football to say anything intelligent here.

Jordan: Honestly, Chad, I think Oregon wins. I think the SEC is the strongest conference in football, and Auburn is amazing and beat better teams to get to this point (outside of Stanford, who I think is ranked where they should be at #4).  But I’m also a big believer in innovation and American ingenuity, and Oregon’s offense is that in spades.  Check out this NY Times piece (free account needed).  In other words, if you’re against Oregon, you’re against America, Chad.  The New York Times said so, and I know you red-staters will respect that.

I like that this is a matchup between the finesse, “soft” Pac-10 and the powerful SEC.  I know Auburn runs the spread, too, but as you correctly pointed out, Cam Newton is bigger than almost all of Oregon’s defense.  Further, you told me when I was at Auburn some students claim it’s “the brainless teaching the heartless” after the old Francois Guizot quote because Auburn students are conservatives and the professors are liberal.  Meanwhile, Eugene is hippy-ville, with a head coach that isn’t at all new-agey, but at least unorthodox.  The Ducks represent everything I love about the Left Coast, going up against a program where tradition reigns.

Of course, I thought the same thing about playing Ohio State in the Rose Bowl last year, and that didn’t turn out well.

What is Auburn’s best asset, and what terrifies you most about Oregon?  I think our defense is good, but Cam Newton gives me nightmares.  He’s truly terrifying.  Nick Fairley is an unstoppable force, too.  As I said before, I think our best asset is Chip Kelley and a lot of very good football players.  No one’s going to dominate, not even LaMichael James, but the system will carry the day.

Would a guy who looks this smart really ask for cash to play college football?

Chad: Auburn’s best asset?  Cam Newton.  He’s basically one of those creatures from Avatar playing college football.  What terrifies me most about Oregon isn’t necessarily something on the field, it’s the fact that I made a lot of jokes about the Pac-10 in my book, and if the Ducks win, I will be hearing about it for a long, long time.

Jordan: What’s been your favorite memory of the season so far?

Chad: There have been so many.  From Newton’s coming out party against LSU, to the thrashing of South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game.  But I will never forget standing in the upper deck at Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, freezing my butt off, and trailing 24-0.  The season was over, our championship dream was over, life as I knew it was over.  I almost left.  One more touchdown for the Tide and I was gone.  But Auburn never gave up, and when the clock struck 0:00 my Tigers won 28-27.  It was the largest comeback in Auburn history, and the largest blown lead in Alabama history.  I still cannot believe I saw it, and many years from now, I’ll still be able to think about that game and smile.

Jordan: I don’t have anything close to that.  Even though I watched every game, they all kind of bled together and outside of the Cal game, which was more just annoying, there weren’t any tough finishes.  Beating Stanford was probably my favorite game, since they’re really, really good and I like how Jim Harbaugh coaches.  It’s always fun to whip USC and pummel Washington, of course.

And now, a serious note.  You can picture me pressing my fingertips together over my pursed lips for this one.  Both Auburn and Oregon have been subjected to intense scrutiny this past year, from Oregon’s legal troubles to Cam Newton’s father allegedly selling his son’s services to the highest bidder, so both of us root for teams deemed villains by sports fans at large.  How did you handle that pressure?

Chad: I think most sports fans enjoy the us vs. the world mentality.  The scrutiny seems to galvanize teams and fan bases, and it makes victories all the more sweeter.

Jordan: I was embarrassed.  Maybe it’s because Oregonians are polite to a fault, just like Canadians.  Fortunately, our legal troubles in the offseason have largely been forgotten, especially since Jeremiah Masoli got kicked to the SEC.

Here’s another question, and one that combines your two favorite things: if this is Star Wars, isn’t Cam Newton Darth Vader and Nick Fairley The Emperor of this game?  Even our mutual friend and Auburn fan Rachel Held Evans admitted Newton was “a little arrogant” on Facebook.  I’m glad you guys are galvanized, but how does it feel to know you could win a championship, and there’s a decent chance it will be taken away some day?

Chad: If this is Star Wars, I don’t think anyone is Darth Vader or The Emperor.  We’re both very unlikely to even be in this game, so it’s more like Auburn is Han Solo, and Oregon is Luke Skywalker, and we are fighting over Princess Leia.  Problem is, Leia is Oregon’s sister, and that is gross.

And as far as Rachel Held Evans goes, you should have seen what Cam Newton said about her on Facebook.

And to your last point, I’m not too concerned about anything being taken away.  Cam’s dad was swindled into talking money by some shady ex-MSU running back/country music legend.  No one paid money for Cam Newton, and the NCAA has declared him eligible to dominate Oregon.

But let me ask you, how does it feel to know you could win a championship, only to have the fashion police take it away some day.

Jordan: Touché.

Chad Gibbs is the author of God and Football – Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC (Zondervan), and lives in Auburn, Alabama.  Jordan Green is the Editor-in-Chief of the Burnside Writers Collective and is the co-author of Besides the Bible (Biblica).  Both Jordan and Chad are married to pediatricians with red hair.
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  • JamesW says:

    Of the three undefeated teams, I fully understand why TCU was left out. But if there were a playoff and TCU had a chance to stand toe-to-toe with Oregon and Auburn, I think they’d win. I say this as a non-TCU fan. I have seen them play and they are just as talented as well-coached at the 2 teams you mentioned.

    That said, I’m glad you guys have this experience. It’s very cool that out of 300+ D-1 teams, your two teams are the ones left standing.

    • Ryan says:

      I think you mean 120 D-1 teams, unless of course you are counting FCS (Dvi. 1-AA) schools, but those teams would never be left standing.

  • JamesW says:

    OK, 120 teams, Still a nice coincidence that these two guys get to see their teams play against each other.

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