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College football explained: we look forward to tonight's big game

Kein Coleman explains the convulated college football system as Auburn and Oregan prepare to clash.

Auburn quarter back Cam Newton pictured on campus this week.
Auburn quarter back Cam Newton pictured on campus this week.
Image: (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

IF YOU TOLD 10 sports fans in Ireland that the college version of American Football is the second biggest sport in American, I’m pretty sure 10 of those people wouldn’t believe you.

Basketball, ice hockey, heck, even baseball? No, college football continues to thrive as one of the most supported games in US sport right now.

Every Saturday between the beginning of autumn and early in December, thousands upon thousands of people flock to their college arena to see their academic peers take to the field against a rival university.

College football in America is also home to some of the biggest stadia, and up to and over 100,000-people attendances aren’t uncommon.

It’s televised comprehensively in America, just as much as it’s professional, older brother. ESPN cover at least three big games every Saturday, all of which are available on ESPN America on this side of the Atlantic.

The BCS National Championship Game (the college football ‘final’) from 2010 was the tenth most viewed sporting event in American last year, behind eight NFL games and the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The nearest non-football sport to this game was the seventh tie between the Celtics and the Lakers in the NBA Finals, which was the only basketball game to make the list as far down as 74.

The Division

The college football setup is possibly the most confusing, convoluted system used in sport. There is a hierarchy of divisions, but the one everybody concentrates on is the NCAA Division 1-A. This is the only televised division, and where all the potential NFL draftees are plucked from. This division is built up of six major conferences, the winners of which go straight to the Championship series.

Five smaller conferences compete in the 1-A as well, but the winner of one of these must be in the top 12 of the ranking system for it to be regarded for the Championship series. The membership of a conference’s teams depends on their geography.

The Ranking

The ranking system is a controversial method of polling the top 25 teams in college football. It often ranks teams less so on their on-the-field strength, and more so on the quality and attractiveness of their football.

Teams get their ranking through a polling system which takes votes from three human systems (including coaches and journalists), and one ranking formula.

The controversy with this method is the strongest team doesn’t necessarily get to compete in the BSC Championship Game, which pits the #1 and #2 ranked teams against each other. Because the governing organisation (the NCAA) doesn’t bestow a championship title, the teams that compete in this game are basically handpicked in the rankings.

2011 Championship Game

This year, the final is being contested by the Auburn Tigers (#1, and SEC champions), and the Oregon Ducks (#2, and PAC-10 champions). Both sides achieved an unbeaten record this year, 13-0 and 12-0 respectively, and the general consensus suggests that they were the rightful teams to compete in the final having been voted the top two sides in the rankings.

Tonight, these sides will line out in the BCS Championship Game (to be held in Glendale, Arizona) for the first times in their history. It’s also, surprisingly enough, the first time ever the Tigers and the Ducks will clash helmets.

The game is also home to the best college football player from 2010: Cam Newton. Overcoming recruiting violations earlier in the season, Newton inspired Auburn to an unbeaten 13-0 record and a top ranking in both the coaches and journalists polls.

He was also voted the Heismann trophy winner, the biggest accolade a college footballer can achieve. Newton was the ultimate dual threat this year, both on the ground and in the air as he tormented defences – and is expected to do the same to the Ducks tonight. It’s easy to get a dual-threat moniker in college, but few really have the throwing arm to balance the use of their legs.

Auburn have been described as a one-man team, but it would take a very special player to take them as far as Cam Newton has this season. He doesn’t have a bad day, and has orchestrated some of the biggest moments and plays this year.

Check out Auburn highlights from 2010

On the opposite side, the Oregon signal caller Darron Thomas has been much less heralded this season but he is no slouch throwing the ball. Thomas is just a fraction under Cam’s throwing stats, but is miles behind Newton when it comes to running the ball. But that won’t worry Thomas, because he has the best running back in college football this season over his shoulder.

LaMichael James came third in the Heismann trophy voting, but the small man is the best running back in college right now. Miniature in physique, the Oregon back boasts an untouchable speed that gives him the opportunity to pull a big play out of the bag with ease.

James has notched up 1,682 yards for the Ducks this year, scoring 21 touchdowns. Oregon’s rushing attack is fourth in the country (303.5 yards per game), and Auburn’s is sixth (287.2), mainly from their quarterback, so it couldn’t get any tighter.

Check Oregon highlights from 2010#

LaMichael James and Cam Newton are destined for big things in football, so why not catch a glimpse of them before they hit the NFL this Monday night? College football is home to some of the biggest, most amazing plays in sport, so get ready – it’s gonna be a big night!

Auburn #1 v Oregon #2, BCS Championship Game – ESPN America, Monday night/Tuesday morning, 1:30am

About the author:

Kevin Coleman

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