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It's Oregon, it's Auburn, and it's beyond dispute

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

The two best teams, representing the two best conferences, wrap up the two berths in the BCS title game, leaving little doubt in (or about) the process.

December 04, 2010|Chris Dufresne

Reporting from Corvallis, Ore. — Oregon ended the "what-if?" scenarios in the Pacific Northwest and Auburn ended all the "what-about?" in Atlanta.

There were no major plot-boilers, fingernail losses, harrowing comebacks or heartbreaking misses by kickers — that was Thanksgiving weekend.

Saturday was the calm after the storm.

The top two teams from the top two conferences clinched undefeated regular seasons and will play for the national title Jan. 10 in Glendale, Az.

Oregon (12-0) vs. Auburn (13-0), how disputable is that?

Oregon defeated Oregon State, 37-20, and Auburn took down South Carolina, 56-17.

Euphoric afterglow moments at Reser Stadium in Corvallis included the Oregon Duck mascot fending off photographers and well-wishers as if he was as famous as the San Diego Chicken.

LaMichael James, Oregon's diminutive but dominating tailback, became engulfed by fans as he raced toward the locker room.

None of the 134 yards James gained in the game were as impressive as the yards he gained after it.

"This means everything," James said later. "This means a lot for our fans, the community of Oregon and our program."

Because Oregon nailed it down, the Rose Bowl did not have to award roses to Oregon players balling their eyes out after losing a shot at the national title. That actually happened in 1998, the day UCLA lost to Miami.

Stanford, the best one-loss team out there, is now poised to earn a major bowl bid — either the Orange or Fiesta. The Cardinal has never played in a major bowl other than the Rose.

The Pacific 10 Conference will end up with two teams — neither named USC — in BCS games, with one playing for the national title.

"It's a signature milestone," Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said in the press box near the end of Saturday's game. "Especially in a year that USC is not in the equation."

The Bowl Championship Series sometimes turns out OK even when it's not really trying.

Kyle Brotzman, the poor Boise State kicker who missed two chip-shot field goals in the Nevada loss last week? That recurring nightmare only cost his team a shot at the Rose Bowl, not the national championship.

Texas Christian ends up as the odd undefeated team out but no real BCS injustice has been done. You can argue this could have been better settled with a playoff, but not that TCU deserved a title bid more than Oregon or Auburn.

TCU isn't going away empty-handed either, as it will earn a trip to the Rose Bowl to play Wisconsin on Jan. 1.

TCU would have been better positioned for ranting had it not, only last week, agreed to become a member of the Big East.

The Horned Frogs soon will be part of the members-only club.

How tidy, really, it all turned out.

Oregon finally closed the deal on its first national title bid, and the pent-up emotions poured onto the playing surface. It was like hundreds of Jimmy Valvanos running around looking for someone to hug.

Oregon went undefeated (7-0-1) in its first season, 1916, under coach Hugo Bezdek, and has been looking to recapture the magic ever since.

The Ducks came close in 2001 when they finished No. 2 in both polls but got off-loaded by the BCS computers. Oregon seemed headed toward the title in 2007 until Dennis Dixon and his ACL crumpled to the ground in Tucson.

This year, though, Oregon pitched the complete regular-season shutout, although Saturday was far from a perfect game.

The Ducks turned the ball over on their first two possessions and fell behind, 7-0. They botched an extra point and even missed an easy field goal at the end of the half.

The Ducks, though, used a bruising running game, a fake punt and stout second-half defense to turn back any upset ideas.

Oregon was up, 16-7, in the third quarter when Michael Clay, a backup linebacker, took the direct snap out of punt formation and busted 64 yards up the middle before he was stopped. The play set up quarterback Darron Thomas' 19-yard scoring pass to D.J. Davis.

Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said the fake was in the game plan and was locked and loaded to be called the first time the Ducks punted.

It was Clay's only carry of the season.

"My rushing average is pretty good right now!" he joked on the field afterward.

The tailback tag team of James and Kenjon Barner combined for 267 yards, with James squeezing out one more yard than Barner's 133.

The running game was so good that Thomas, who has rushed for 496 yards this year, finished with only one carry for minus-four yards.

Thomas did complete 14 of 24 passes for 145 yards, with two touchdowns. More important, he showed maturity in running the option offense, not taking carries for himself when the openings were not there.

"I dictate the tempo of what people do," Thomas said.

The Ducks' defense, overshadowed all year by the high-octane offense, made two huge stops, holding Oregon State to second-half field goals inside the red zone.

"We have a tremendous offense, unbelievable," Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. "But our kids have played good defense this year."

Aliotti was almost as giddy as he was exhausted. He was UCLA's beleaguered defensive coordinator in 1998 when the Bruins were knocked out of the first BCS title game, and into the Rose Bowl, after that season-ending loss at Miami.

"I remembered that all this week," Aliotti said. "Knocked into the Rose Bowl. Think about that."

Aliotti was determined to not let that happen again.

"We're in the national title game," he said. "Give me a friggin' break!"

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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