Analyzing the BCS title game 

January, 6, 2011

Way back in November, when the BCS rankings were just a few weeks old, the debate began. It was about whether Boise State had been shafted for not being included in one of the top two spots. It was about the SEC strength of schedule and about the Pac-10 style of play. It was about all the things that make most of college football great -- opinions. Because until there is a playoff, that -- and computers -- is what we have.

However, it was the opinion of bookmakers that had me most interested at the time. In early November, Oregon was scoring nearly 60 points a game and was routing opponents by 37 points per game. Although the Ducks' schedule didn't allow them to be in the BCS top spot, their performance had everyone believing this was the most dominant team in the country. I consistently heard from bookmakers that Oregon was considered a public team -- a squad that was getting money from amateur bettors no matter how big the spread. The games involving the Ducks brought in more action than those of any other college team.

Auburn, meanwhile, occupied the BCS top spot. But its season, though impressive up to that point, had not been nearly as dominant as the Ducks'. Sure, the Tigers were undefeated, but they had beaten Mississippi State and Kentucky by just three and needed OT to beat Clemson. To be honest, the story was much more about Cam Newton's eligibility than his punishing runs and slingshot arm.

And then came Thanksgiving weekend. That was when everyone expected Auburn to be proved a fraud. The Tigers were headed into Tuscaloosa to play the defending national champs, who were soon to no longer be defending. The Tide were the one last obstacle between Auburn potentially stealing their title or being relegated to the backwoods of Alabama, permanent second-class citizens to the Sabanator. For a half, it looked as though that's how the scenario would play out, as Bama jumped out to a 24-point lead.

Then Auburn remembered what was at stake -- not just in-state bragging rights but the title that really matters: champions of the whole country. The Tigers stormed back and won 28-27, knocking Bama quarterback Greg McElroy silly in the process. The next week, Auburn beat up on South Carolina, 56-17, in the SEC title game. That was the night when public sentiment swung.

The Hilton opened the national title game at Oregon minus-3. Before the night was over, the line had swung four points. Before you could spell Chizik, the Tigers were favored by three, which is where the game stands Thursday. I remember Hilton bookmaker Jay Kornegay telling me he expected a lot of public money to come in on Auburn because of how well it played to end the season. But the impact of the public's opinion was astonishing. In less than three weeks, the Tigers had become a far more public team than the high-flying Ducks.

The good news is, by Jan. 11, we'll know which side was right and whose opinion measured up. Until then, we have our handy Bowl Betting Bonanza guide to help predict the future.