Commentary

Auburn, Oregon find the right path

Originally Published: January 7, 2011
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- When preparations for the 2010 season began, 120 teams mouthed the same platitudes. All of them would work hard. All of them would go undefeated. All of them would play for the crystal football.

But only Auburn and Oregon are preparing to play in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. At media day on Friday, ESPN.com asked players and coaches on both teams what set them apart, and when they knew that this season would be different.

[+] EnlargeRyan Pugh
Chris Morrison/US PresswireAn eight-win season in 2009 motivated Ryan Pugh and the Tigers to do better in 2010.

Auburn center Ryan Pugh: We were in a team meeting. It was literally the first day back at Auburn before classes started in the spring, after the Outback Bowl. We had some bad personal fouls. It was a very sloppy game, and we come out and win it in the end.

[Coach Gene Chizik] said, "Congratulations on going 8-5. That was good. How do you get to great?" He put down a whole PowerPoint slide [presentation] on how you get from good to great. We've been talking about it the whole year, whether it's in our devotional Friday night as a team, whether it's working out with our strength coach and him yelling every day, "Eight ain't enough." It might [sound] a little southern, but eight ain't enough.

Auburn strength coach Kevin Yoxall: We said, "Eight ain't enough!" quite a bit as part of our breakdown at the end of workouts. We kept hammering that home. OK, it was Coach's first year, and we had eight wins, and we had a great win at the end in the bowl game. But that's not what we're all about. We need to do a heck of a lot better than that. I think that was one of the things that they hung their hat on.

Pugh: I don't think there's a team out there that starts summer workouts saying, 'You know, we're going to go 7-6 this year, lose our bowl game, and call it a good year.'

Oregon defensive end Kenny Rowe: We been working hard since the spring. After the Rose Bowl, Chip [Kelly, the head coach] walks in and he was yelling at us about everything we did wrong coming into the Rose Bowl. We fixed all that. We tightened down. We got more disciplined and we've been working hard at it since then.

[+] EnlargeDavid Paulson
AP Photo/Matt YorkDavid Paulson and the Ducks got a lift after coming from behind to beat Tennessee.

Oregon defensive tackle Zac Clark: Coach Kelly will tell that we didn't have a bad practice. & It's tough because practice isn't always the most fun thing.

Oregon safety John Boyett: In spring ball, you practice and get a day off, you practice and get a day off, for 15 straight days. And what are you practicing for? The spring game? It's not like you're practicing to play a big Pac-10 game. You're practicing to ultimately make yourself a better player and make the team better. For a lot of people, it's hard to stay focused. But we, as a team, were able to stay focused and come out and try to get better each and every practice.

Clark: The offseason drama [several arrests, including quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who was suspended and eventually dismissed] was a reality check. It brings you down to earth waking up every morning reading that Oregon is thugs. Most of this team, 95 percent, even last year, are very upstanding, just good people. So it hurts to read that about yourself. Us 95 percent decided to get on the 5 percent. If they didn't conform to the team, then they were gone. We lost some people, as everyone knows. We're very happy with the group of people that we have now.

Auburn linebacker Josh Bynes: Summer workouts go by, guys are hustling, pushing through the line, running through the line, past the line, guys would literally be racing through workouts, the whole entire workouts, not just half of it, not part of it. I went to [SEC] media days and told them straight up, 100 percent of what I believe, that we all felt this could be our year. That was the truth. A lot of people thought, Auburn is just talking, Josh may be talking out of his mind.

Auburn wide receiver Kodi Burns: We talk about winning championships before the season started and everybody thought it could happen, but I don't know if everybody believed it could happen. When we started winning these close games, you go back home to your apartments and dorms and sit around, and it would be like, 'We can really do this?' Somewhere toward the middle of the season, everybody started to believe we could get it.

Oregon tight end David Paulson: You don't really know how you're going to do until you start playing games. Once the games started going well, I think that's when we started to believe in ourselves, got on a roll and kept going. The way we came back in the Tennessee game (down 13-3, then won 48-13), that stirred a lot of what we had in our team.

[+] EnlargeChip Kelly
AP Photo/Matt YorkChip Kelly knows wins are what got the Ducks to Glendale, Ariz.

Rowe: Being down 21-3, to Stanford, nobody panicked at all. Everybody on the sideline was just relaxed. We came back and won that game (52-31). We were down in a couple of other games. We just all stayed calm and relaxed and came out with victories.

Auburn offensive tackle Lee Ziemba: You just kind of sense it over the course of the year. It's a special feeling. It's a feeling that you walk on the field every game and win and there's nothing anybody can do about it. You have a few comebacks -- miraculous, crazy comebacks -- that are unheard of, and that's when you start to realize you've got something special going.

Pugh: When Bo [Jackson, the former Auburn tailback and 1985 Heisman winner] spoke to us after the Georgia game [a 49-31 win] and told us the way we played the game made Auburn fans proud. When Bo said, "Not as a player but as a fan, you touched our hearts," that's something that really meant a lot to us as players and as seniors, because we've been through so much.

Oregon corner Talmadge Jackson III: We didn't set our goal every day to get to the national championship. We really focused on one day at a time. Win the day. We really focused on our motto. That's what really got us here. You can't really get ahead of yourself. You have to focus on what's happening right now. And all those small steps led to this big step where we are right now.

Burns: I would say the Alabama game. After that game, we knew it was our year.

Auburn defensive tackle Zach Clayton: A lot of it is mental. Everyone makes the comment that to be able to win, you have to have some luck along the way. Those close games, when they go in your favor, that's one of the things that ultimately decide whether you're going to be a champion.

Oregon coach Chip Kelly: Why are we here? We won.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com