Newton, the Heisman winner, hasn't played a poor game all season and does too many things well to pin the job of containing him on a few players. It will have to be a team effort by Oregon. The Ducks play about 24 defensive players to keep them fresh, but it doesn't make them any bigger. Only five players on Oregon's two-deep defensive depth chart weigh more than the 250-pound Newton, who ran for 1,409 yards, threw for 2,589 and accounted for 49 TDs. The teams that have slowed Newton as a runner — Alabama for a half, Mississippi State for three quarters — got multiple defenders around him quickly near the line of scrimmage.
Auburn's All-American, right, has the potential to be the Ducks' biggest problem. The 298-pounder is quick off the ball and light on his feet. Oregon's offensive line is workmanlike and solid, but asking C Jordan Holmes and guards Carson York and C.E. Kaiser to handle Fairley might be asking too much. What the Ducks can do is wear him out with the frenetic pace of their offense.
Oregon's tempo vs. Auburn DT Nick Fairley
The Tigers rank 106th in Division I-A in pass defense and 11th against the run. They have 33 sacks, but receivers often run free in the secondary. Oregon's spread offense is run-heavy with RBs LaMichael James, I-A's leading rusher, and Kenjon Barner. Thomas, left, is dangerous when he keeps it on the option. The Ducks have talent at receiver in Jeff Mael, D.J. Davis and Josh Huff. As a passer, Thomas' numbers (2,518 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions) are similar to Newton's, but he hasn't thrown more than 33 times in any game.
Harris has returned four punts for touchdowns this season, but he's also prone to drop the ball. He's not the fastest of the Ducks running in a straight line, but from side-to-side, stopping and starting, he is as elusive as any player in the country. Auburn's punt-coverage team hasn't given up much (5.5 yards per return), but it hasn't been tested much.
Auburn QB Cam Newton vs. Oregon defense
Oregon QB Darron Thomas vs. Auburn secondary
Oregon PR Cliff Harris vs. Auburn's coverage
Leaning to the O
Auburn Statistic Oregon
497.7 Total offense 537.5
42.7 Scoring offense 49.3
287.2 Rushing offense 303.8
210.5 Passing offense 233.7
362.2 Total defense 331.6
24.5 Scoring defense 18.4
111.7 Rushing defense 117.6
250.5 Passing defense 214.0
"We stand for three things: playing fast, playing hard and finishing. We've done it with our 12 opportunities. Our vision has nothing to do with championships. Our vision has nothing to do with getting a crystal ball or rings. It is all about playing the game. That's what we've done all along and that's what our vision is."
Chip Kelly, Ducks coach
"I think the chemistry of our team was built on the fact that we've had to win games about every way you can win them. We've had to win them late, in different ways offensively, defensively, with special teams. We've been in a lot of big games, and any time that you're really exposed to a lot of different things, it can't do anything but help."
Gene Chizik, Auburn coach
The long wait
37 Days since each team played. Will the layoff hurt? Auburn's offense, ranked No. 7 overall in Division I-A and No. 4 in scoring is less complex and relies less on timing than Oregon's, which is No. 1 in total offense and points per game. Cam Newton's running ability means there are fewer complicated routes and fewer reads to make in Auburn's offense. Tackling and conditioning are the biggest casualties of a long wait, said ex-Mississippi State and new Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
Fight the temptation
The coaches made their players aware that officials have given more attention on the NCAA's unsportsmanlike conduct rule during the bowl season. Their message: temper the excitement.
Officials flagged a Kansas State player for saluting after he scored a touchdown late in the Pinstripe Bowl, and it cost his team on the ensuing two-point conversion try.
Auburn's Gene Chizik said he told his players to just hand the ball to an official, taking away some of the temptation to grandstand.
"We tell our kids they should celebrate as a team. You are not supposed to have undue people looking at just an individual, because it is a team game," Oregon's Chip Kelly said.
Big for some, not so much for Phoenix
The prolific offenses have made the game a must-see. Tickets have a face value of $300 but are going for thousands, and one pair reportedly was listed at $15,000 each. And Glendale, Ariz., police say eight people have been arrested so far for selling fake tickets. Still, Phoenix isn't flipping over the game. There were no big signs at the airport, no strings of billboards dotting the highway and, so far, no overwhelming enthusiasm. "Phoenix is so spread out that it tends to swallow up big events like this," said Fiesta Bowl spokesman Andy Bagnato, who grew up in the area.