DALLAS — Fans in both orange and blue and green and gold have poured into the Metroplex here, and, just as AT&T Stadium glistens in the daylight sun, memories seem to hang in the air from that night these programs first crossed fates.
“Dyer was down,” Duck fans from North of Silicon Valley type into hashtags and fire off with their phones. That familiar No. 2 jersey with ‘Newton’ on the nameplate is seen on a fan’s back, fresh off a flight from Atlanta.
Players remember it, too.
“In 2010, I was able to go to the national championship game as a fan,” Auburn quarterback Bo Nix said earlier this month back on the Plains. A photo from Getty Images has since surfaced online showing the 10-year-old Nix in the stands amid the celebration that night.
It was different for 12-year-old Justin Herbert from the other side of the country.
“I was pretty distraught after that game,” said the Eugene, Ore. native and the senior Oregon quarterback who passed on the NFL last spring in favor of one more season with the Ducks. He spoke in a video posted by the program, in front of a shimmering building there in Eugene, where Nike flexes state-of-the-art muscle. “I remember that one pretty vividly. It was tough.”
But this isn’t about old memories.
This is about making new ones.
No. 16 Auburn meets No. 11 Oregon in a cross-country showcase showdown and the weekend’s marquee matchup tonight at 6:30 p.m. in AT&T Stadium, to be broadcast for the world to see on ABC.
Auburn enters with that new youngster quarterback, Nix, behind center, and with head coach Gus Malzahn back calling plays and searching for that magic like what Auburn had in the 2010 BCS Championship Game when Auburn beat Oregon 22-19 to win its first national title since 1957.
Oregon flies in off a 9-4 season last year, soaring into a second season under head coach Mario Cristobal.
Those quarterbacks tell part of the story. Nix is a second-generation Tiger, whose father Patrick Nix is famous for legendary throws as Auburn quarterback in 1990’s, and Herbert is a second-generation Duck, whose grandfather played receiver for Oregon in the 1960’s. Both are bent on bringing their programs back to where they were in their childhood dreams — and tonight’s game could help launch them there.
On the field, the lines tell another part of the story. Oregon’s loaded offensive line is full of experienced returners and lauded as one of the country’s best, and it’s matching up against Auburn’s fierce defensive front.
“Really, for us, it’s really about the line of scrimmage — winning the line of scrimmage on the offensive front and the defensive front,” Malzahn went as far as today during his press conference on the Plains this week.
Cristobal knows plenty about that, and plenty about Auburn. He coached offensive line and served as associate head coach at rival Alabama from 2013-16.
“Those are a lot of big bodies, a lot of big, talented guys,” Cristobal said.
His group returns starters across the board, but is matched against an Auburn team that he figures has three projected first-round picks on it.
“And certainly those are going to be some unbelievable battles ,” Cristobal said. “ The physicality on both sides is impressive to watch, and I know that, as competitors, both sides are ready to get after it.
“But it’s more than that: I think the physicality of their corners, the physicality of their safeties, the speed, explosiveness of their linebackers, the power of their offensive line, the speed of their wide receivers — they have explosive players all over the place — their backs,” he went down the list.
“I think there are so many battles, that to say that it’s going to be just focused on one is hard to say.”
Auburn and Oregon have met only once before, in that national championship game.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Herbert said. “I wouldn’t say it’s any bigger than any other game. They’re all big for us.”
Still: “We’re excited to play them. We can’t wait to get out there.”