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Auburn 22, Oregon 19 - Auburn wins national championship. It was a fitting ending for the Tigers of Auburn. In a close win, Wes Byrum - a kicker who has had a stellar career for War Eagle - blasted through a 19-yard field goal as time expired in his final college kick, and will leave town with a national championship. In a colorful game featuring neon green socks, bright yellow pon-poms, silver helmets and huge masses of orange, this was another instant classic, game-for-the-ages. In dramatic fashion, the Tigers did what they did all year long: found a way to win.
Auburn Head Coach Gene Chizik stood on the BCS platform and yelled at the top of his lungs, "War Eagle!"
That said it all. As nearly 40,000 Auburn fans erupted in unison behind him, the Tigers will carry college football's top prize back to campus in the form of a small, shiny, elegant crystal football.
In the end, did anyone ever really doubt that Auburn was going to win this one close? While Oregon only had one close contest all season, at California, the Tigers were involved in seven nailbiters before Monday's game. That doesn't mean they would be guaranteed to win a close game, but it does mean that they would keep their cool, move the ball, and get into position for the deciding points. And that is what they did.
It will be discussed for quite a while whether or not Michael Dyer was down on the long, late run that set Auburn up for the winning kick. But the ultimate sin is to not play through the whistle, and, from what was reviewed, no whistle ever blew. The TV showed that he was in fact, still up, and Auburn was in position to win it all.
Often we see great college kickers get sent off in bowl games with big performances in their final collegiate experience. But no kicker will ever be able to put icing on his cake that tastes better than what Wes Byrum whipped together last night. On the final play of the game, he was able to knock through a short one, and then sprint to the sidelines and into the arms of his celebrating teammates as a national champion. The euphoria of that moment for him transcends my imagination.
Byrum's career at Auburn included going 62 of 82 for his four-year career as a starter. He also made 185 out of 188 extra points. Last night, he was 4-4 in the game, making two field goals and both extra points. He will not only go down in Auburn lore because he sealed the title with his right foot. He will go down, also, as one of the most clutch kickers to ever wear the blue. He made too many last-second field goals for me to recollect in time for this article.
As for the other 59 minutes of the game itself, the better team - in my opinion - won. Oregon was unable to do to Auburn what it had done offensively to opponents all year long. The Ducks were not getting open lanes to run in, and Auburn's defensive line and linebackers were getting pressure on skill players the whole game.
But as a credit to Oregon's defense, they kept their team in the game. I was very impressed with the play of the Duck defense, and they just about kept UO in the game long enough for the win. However, on the most crucial drive of the game, Auburn went straight down and got the points they needed almost in an expected manner. I know this included a controversial and odd play, but still.
Cam Newton, Auburn's highly memorable, Heisman-winning quarterback, finished the game 20 of 34 for 254 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He didn't put on a jaw-dropping display of athleticism like he did all year, but rather mustered out the plays it took to win. That said, his second quarter touchdown pass to Emory Blake was a thing of beauty.
The real star on offense for the Tigers was freshman running back, Dyer. The nation's top running back recruit a year ago, Dyer lived up to his billing all season long (1,236 yards) and played a noble game for Auburn in the finale. For the game, he finished with 143 yards, with the biggest run of all coming on that 37-yarder on the final drive. He was named the game's offensive MVP.
As everyone from here to Tahiti could tell you, the SEC has now won five straight BCS Title Games. Some like the conference. Some hate the conference. But nobody can argue that this isn't the best conference. Some will argue that the SEC teams are overrated. But the fact is that five years in a row a team from another conference has had a shot to knock off the SEC champ for the national crown, and not one of them was able to do it.
Out in Texas, TCU fans will remember the 2010 season as bittersweet. They won all of their games, too. But unfortunately the BCS is what it is, and with three unbeaten regular season teams, the Horned Frogs came in third. I do not want to get into this matter, it simply is what it is.
It is early in the morning, and after a long, grueling, exciting and fun college football season, I am ready to seal the lid on this campaign and tuck it away in the vault.
Congratulations to the Auburn Tigers - the national champions of the 2010 season!
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