By The Associated Press
For Oregon, it’s not so much the funky uniforms as the players who wear them. For Auburn, it’s not so much about the bumpy road this season as where it will end.
The Ducks and Tigers locked up spots in the national title game Saturday, while the nation’s other undefeated team, TCU, closed the day looking at a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Rose Bowl that still feels like a consolation prize.
Ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25, Oregon (12-0) defeated Oregon State 37-20 and No. 2 Auburn (13-0) routed No. 18 South Carolina 56-17 in the SEC title game to secure spots in the BCS title game, Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz. No. 3 TCU watched it all from home but got no help and got left out — the way some team does almost every year in a sport that refuses to adopt a playoff.
Oregon opened as a 3-point favorite Saturday night at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book but within 30 minutes, the line went down to 1 point. The title pairing will become official Sunday night when the BCS awards spots in the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowls along with the national championship game. Going into Saturday, the top two teams were flipped in the BCS standings, with Auburn at No. 1 and Oregon ranked No. 2.
“It hasn’t really set in yet,” said Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who has a month-plus to prepare for stopping the nation’s top-scoring offense in the title game. “I know that’s where we’re going.”
Oregon, the team with a multitude of uniform combinations that includes four helmets, five jerseys and four different color of socks, is seeking the first national title in program history. Behind running back LaMichael James, the Ducks average more than 50 points per game.
“The one thing I think, and now I hope, is that we’re not known for our uniforms, we’re known for the players inside the uniforms and that’s what makes this thing special,” Ducks coach Chip Kelly said.
Auburn has been on a crazy ride this season, which has brought sometimes daily revelations about a pay-for-play scheme involving quarterback Cam Newton’s failed recruitment to Mississippi State. Earlier in the week, Newton was cleared by the NCAA to play in the SEC title game and, once again, he played undistracted football, leading an SEC team to the BCS championship game for the fifth straight year.
“It was a lot of guys keeping me focused,” Newton said. “I just want to thank them. … There’s some resilient guys on this team. I’ve said that a billion times, but without the guys on this team, I wouldn’t have had the success I did.”
Newton, who threw for 335 yards and four touchdowns Saturday, and James, who ran for 134 yards and two scores, are among the favorites to win the Heisman trophy when it’s awarded next Saturday. One day short of a month later, they go for an even bigger prize.
The coaches traded compliments about their upcoming opponents and the stars they’ll be trying to stop come January.
“I think, obviously, you’ve seen clips of Newton,” Kelly said. “He’s a tremendous football player, but it’s not just Cam Newton.”
Newton is the latest in a long line of Auburn greats — including Heisman winners Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson — but the school’s only other national title came in 1957, when Shug Jordan was coach. In 2004, the Tigers came close again, finishing 12-0 but getting left out of the championship game. That was one of the most controversial episodes in what has become an annual debate about who got the best and worst of the deal in college football’s widely derided system of determining a champion, sans playoff.
This year’s have not is TCU, which finished 12-0. But it topped the non-BCS Mountain West Conference, not the highly regarded SEC, and never had the cachet to break into the top two. The Horned Frogs will almost certainly end up making their first trip to the Rose Bowl, where they’ll likely play Wisconsin, the pick from a three-way tie for the Big Ten title because of its higher BCS ranking.
“Everyone won. There’s nothing we can do about it,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “I can live with all three being undefeated.”
In other games affecting BCS pairings:
— No. 10 Oklahoma rallied from 17 points down to edge No. 13 Nebraska 23-20 in the Big 12 championship, earning a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, set for Jan. 1 at the same stadium where Oregon and Auburn will meet.
— Tyrod Taylor threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as No. 12 Virginia Tech beat No. 20 Florida State 44-33 in the ACC title game, securing a berth in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.
— Unranked Connecticut got by South Florida, 19-16, on Dave Teggart’s 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds left to win a share of the Big East title and the league’s BCS slot. The Huskies made the BCS despite having a four-loss season.
Stanford, Arkansas and Ohio State, all idle Saturday, are among the top choices for at-large spots in the BCS. No. 9 Boise State also has one loss but its BCS hopes were doused after a loss last week to Nevada. The Broncos defeated Utah State 50-14 on Saturday.