Lots of Defense . . .And Then There is Oregon Vs. Auburn
My No. 1 rule in the NFL Playoffs is simple: Always go with the best defense.
That formula worked out perfectly on the NFL’s Wild Card weekend. The Jets edged the Colts, with Darrelle Revis — you remember the guy who threatened to sit out the season — completely taking Indy’s top receiver, Reggie Wayne, out of the game. Pete Carroll and the Seahawks pulled the biggest postseason upset in years by shutting off whatever was left of the Saints ground game (uh, paging Reggie Bush. Are you there, Reggie? Apparently not).
The Ravens exposed the Chiefs and Matt Cassell as pretenders by holding them to seven puny points, and the Packers kept Michael Vick frustrated for most of the afternoon, limiting the explosive Eagles to just 16 points.
Now we’ll have the Seahawks at the Bears (advantage Chicago’s defense, unless Marshawn Lynch can recreate his magic) and the Packers at the Falcons (I like the Pack’s D, although Matt Ryan is tough at home) in the NFC.
In the AFC, the familiar matchups are Ravens at Steelers (I’ll stick with Troy Polamalu and the guys) and the Jets at the Patriots (This is a little sticky, because New York’s defense might be better, but how do you pick against Tom Brady? Answer: You don’t).
If I had to predict right now, as of today, I’d say it will be the Patriots and the Packers in the Super Bowl. New England is no surprise, but Green Bay still has to win two more games on the road. I didn’t think it could happen until I watched rookie James Starks emerge as the bigtime runner the Cheeseheads lacked. Give Aaron Rodgers and that underrated Pack defense a complementary running game, and the Packers suddenly look as good as anybody in the tournament.
Defense was the prevailing factor in the first crosstown college basketball game of the season, too.
USC outpointed UCLA, 63-52, when Marcus Simmons, the Trojans’ most overlooked player, basically took Tyler Honneycut, the Bruins’ best player, out of the game.
Reeves Nelson, the UCLA forward/linebacker who is the most fun to watch, rumbled his way to 12 points in the first half, but was held to only two in the final 20 minutes, while the Trojans’ big men, Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stephenson, had their way in the paint.
Ben Howland’s young team is epitomized by Josh Smith, the huge freshman center whose two future goals should be 1) Eat less and 2) Study the game more. Some day, this kid has a chance to be a very good player. But it doesn’t appear to be anytime soon.
Are all the preliminary college bowl games out of the way yet?
I believe they are. Now we can hunker down and get ready for the only one that we’ve really been looking forward to all along.
Auburn vs. Oregon in the BCS Championship Game in Arizona tonight has a chance to be a shootout of epic proportions. Whatever you think of Cam Newton’s off-field adventures, you have to admit he is a freakishly good football player who, at 6-6 and 240 pounds, with the ability to pass as well as run, is a weapon unlike any we’ve ever seen at this level.
As imposing as he is, though, Oregon’s entire offense might be every bit as unique. It’s not just the Ducks’ speed and athleticism, although both are off the charts. It is the blur of a tempo Chip Kelly’s kids play at that sets them apart. LeMichael James and friends just keep coming at you, faster with each passing minute, and by the fourth quarter, few, if any, teams can keep up.
If you can somehow stop, or slow down, Newton, Auburn becomes vulnerable. The only way you can stop Oregon is to pull the plug on the clock, and you only have so many time outs to do that.
The Tigers are favored by two, but give me the Ducks, who wore down everybody on their schedule, including a Stanford bunch that might well be the second best team in America.
Call it 45-36 Oregon, and sit back and enjoy. This one should be fun to watch.
— STEVE BISHEFF