Key No. 1: Third Down Efficiency
For Oregon to have any chance to slow down Auburn's offense they have to get off the field on third down. This is going to be very difficult as Auburn was third in the country at converting 3rd Downs at an amazing 53.1%. One of the problems had with Ohio State last year was allowing Terrelle Pryor to convert 3rd and longs with his legs as the play broke down. They are going to have to keep contain and force Newton to make some throws or Auburn will be able to move the ball at will. On the flip side, Oregon has to convert third downs to keep Auburn's defense on the field and push the pace to their advantage. If Auburn can hold the Ducks to some three and outs in the first half, don't be surprised if they go up big early.
Key No. 2: Auburn's D-Line vs. Oregon's O-Line
Cal was the only team that really slowed Oregon down during the regular season and the big reason is that they won the battle up front. Oregon's O-Line got pushed around all game and they were unable to make big holes for LaMichael James to run through. A lot has been about Nick Fairley, but I think it is going to be the rest of Auburn's D-Line that is the key. Oregon's zone reads are based on leaving a defender unblocked and I think they will leave Fairley open and make the zone reads off of him. This means that Fairley will probably have a couple of sacks and tackles for loss, but that will be the trade-off for blocking 5 of Auburn's weaker players to try and create running lanes. If Auburn can create a big push for most of the game, Oregon will struggle to run the ball up the middle and be forced to put the game in Darron Thomas' hands.
Key No. 3: Punt Returns
Oregon's Cliff Harris has been the most dangerous punt returner in the country this season and is a legitimate threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. He already has four punt return TDs this season and Auburn has struggled this year with punting. A special teams TD could blow the game wide open and would be a huge help for the Ducks. However, Harris also has fumbled the ball several times this season, although none have been too costly so far. Oregon's kick returners Josh Huff and Kenjon Barner have also put the ball on the turf and I think Auburn can take advantage of this huge weakness. Oregon is 105th in the nation with 15 fumbles, and if they put the ball on the turf more than once, Auburn will almost certainly win.
Prediction: Oregon 42, Auburn 31
This may be a homer pick, but I actually believe that Oregon's D will be able to limit Cam Newton like Alabama and Clemson were able to do. The difference in those games were that both teams didn't have the offensive firepower (the Tide were also killed by injuries) to weather the storm. Oregon's offense will struggle early, but I think James and Thomas provide enough big plays for Oregon to hold on. Cam Newton throws a late pick, and Thomas throws a TD to Maehl midway through the 4th quarter to seal the win.