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Good, but not great

Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Two of the most prolific offenses in recent memory were set to go toe-to-toe for a national championship. Fireworks were bound to ensue. Right? I mean, the over in Vegas was a hefty 72 points.

Maybe we expected too much. A month is simply too long to wait to decide the national champion. The hype machine started in early December when Auburn destroyed South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game and Oregon capped off its second straight Pac-10 title run with a victory over rival Oregon State.

Weekly specials about the matchup, breaking down the coaches, coaching philosophies, the players, all the minutia regarding the game itself left us all hoping for greatness when it finally came to suit up on Monday.

Of course, we all know now that isn't what happened.

Cam Newton was solid, but not spectacular, and even missed several opportunities to blow the game open.
The showdown started with both teams feeling each other out. The offenses were sluggish, not wanting to make any critical mistakes. While Auburn opened things up in the second quarter in terms of overall yardage, Oregon remained within striking distance throughout. The slow start gave way to defensive tenacity, with Auburn finally knocking off Oregon with a last-second field goal, in a low-scoring 22-19 victory.

There were defining plays to be sure, with goal-line stands, shoe-string tackles and clutch performances, but the two biggest stars for both teams failed to deliver the way everyone had hoped.

Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton was solid, but not spectacular, and even missed several opportunities to blow the game open, with errant passes to open receivers down the field.

Doak Walker Award winner LaMichael James must be dissatisfied with his performance, as the Oregon rusher was bottled up and frustrated most of the game, totaling just 49 yards on the ground.

Both star players were responsible for two touchdowns, but neither were the deciding factor that led their team to victory.

Other observations of the big game:

SEC-OND TO NONE: Despite the SEC taking some serious P.R. hits this season with agent tampering, academic fraud, and the like, college football's premiere conference proved once again that it reigns supreme, with Auburn representing the fifth straight Southeast Conference member to win the national title. It hasn't always been easy and last night's games was certainly proof of that, but the SEC remains the pinnacle of the college football world for the foreseeable future.

DYER STRAITS: Cam Newton didn't need to shine under center for Auburn to win the game. That distinction went to freshman tailback Michael Dyer, who abused Oregon's defense for 143 yards, en route to the national title. His performance was capped off by a 37-yard scamper in the final drive that moved the ball into field-goal range. Dyer's run looked to be halted when it seemed he was brought down after a minimal gain, but the youngster rolled over on top of an Oregon defender and never touched the ground. Urged on by the Auburn sideline, Dyer continued down the field. He then finished off the drive with a run right up the middle, gashing the Oregon defense along the way to the one- yard line, setting up a game-winning chip-shot as time expired, giving Auburn its second national title in school history and leaving the Oregon defense battered and deflated.

FAIRLEY CERTAIN: Auburn's front seven was the biggest factor in the Tigers' victory, as the defensive line and linebackers kept Oregon from running its style of offense. The Ducks had little chance to play their usual up-tempo style, as time and time again it was Auburn defenders making plays in the backfield.

As mean and nasty a defensive lineman as there is in the college ranks, Auburn's Nick Fairley cemented his spot around the top of the upcoming NFL Draft with his dominant performance on Monday. The Lombardi Award winner has not made his intentions public yet, but there is simply no reason to stay in school next year with all he has accomplished as a junior and his draft position firmly set in the top five.

DUCKS DYNASTY: The window in Eugene is not closing, but rather is wide open. While losing a national title game is a tough thing to come to grips with, Chip Kelly and the Ducks are built for the long term. The team has won two straight Pac-10 titles and with almost everyone back, especially on offense, little should change next year, and beyond. Of course, the biggest news is that James will return for at least the 2011 campaign.

With the nation's top tailback back in the fold, there is little reason to think James and company won't once again dominate next season in what should be another national title run for the Ducks.

A sentiment shared by James after last night's loss.

"This is a lesson for us. No one likes to lose, it really hurts. This is probably going to hurt for awhile, but I think we're really going to be determined to go out next season and work harder."

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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