It looks tantalizing on paper.
On one side would be Cam Newton and Auburn, the SEC’s unstoppable force. On the other side would be LaMichael James and Oregon, a supersonic scoring machine from the Pac-10.
With five weeks left in the season, a potential BCS championship matchup with potent possibilities has developed. Oregon and Auburn are atop the BCS standings for the second straight week.
“There is starting to be this realization of two really good teams, that have the two best players in the country representing their offenses, and it would be a lot of fun to watch,” said ESPN analyst Craig James, who has covered both the Tigers and the Ducks this season.
In fact, it’s such an intriguing pairing it might make fans forget about those other unbeaten contenders down the stretch — unless of course they’re fans of Boise State, TCU or Utah.
The numbers are crazy for Oregon. The Ducks are averaging almost 55 points and 573 yards per game, both best in the nation by far. James leads the country in rushing at 172 yards per game after going over 200 for the third time in Oregon’s latest runaway victory, a 53-32 rout of Southern California on Saturday night.
Oregon plays some defense, too, but make no mistake, these Ducks have become the best show in college football because their high-speed, spread offense is now the standard by which all others should be judged.
Coach Chip Kelly has surpassed other spread gurus such as Urban Meyer, Rich Rodriguez and Brian Kelly as the genius du jour. No matter who plays quarterback for Oregon — Jeremiah Masoli out, Darron Thomas in — the points keep piling up.
Add in the cool uniforms — the Ducks have toned it down a bit this season — and Oregon is the IT team.
Newton, meanwhile, has quickly become the game’s must-see star. Big enough to be a defensive end at about 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, but with all the swerve of scatback, the junior college transfer’s combination of power and speed makes him Tim Tebow 2.0, the new and improved version.
Newton has run for 1,122 yards, passed for 1,573 and accounted for 30 of Auburn’s 43 offensive touchdowns.
The Tigers’ spread is pumping out 40 points and 496 yards per game after a 51-31 victory against Mississippi. With offense coordinator Gus Malzahn, another guy racking up the genius points these days, calling the plays for Newton, Auburn has become the Deep South’s answer to Oregon. The pace isn’t as quick, but the Tigers pack more punch.
“I look at Auburn more as a powerful spread behind Newton, compared to Darron Thomas’ finesse, speed spread,” James said.
Because Auburn wants defenses to account for Newton on almost every play, the Tigers rely more on the zone-read option play than the Ducks do. Because Thomas has been in the system for three years, Oregon’s passing game is more developed than Auburn’s.
The debate about whether Boise State, TCU or even Utah should become the first team from a non-automatic qualifying conference to play in the BCS championship game has dominated this season, and will likely continue past the Jan. 10 title game in Arizona.
But with every passing week, with every impressive performance by the Tigers and Ducks, the clamor from those precincts gets easier to ignore.
Even the chasing competition has noticed the separation.
“It’s going to be tough (catching up),” Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor said after Ohio State beat Minnesota.
“Oregon and Auburn, they’re tough.”
— Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.