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January 9, 2011
MORE: BCS Title Game Central
Here is the final installment of our five-part position breakdown of Monday's BCS national championship game, on the special teams.
AUBURN SPECIAL TEAMS VS. OREGON SPECIAL TEAMS
P Ryan Shoemaker, also a senior, has struggled this season, averaging just 39.0 yards per punt. His longest has been 51 yards. While he is a senior, he had punted just seven times in the past two seasons after serving as the main punter as a redshirt freshman in 2007.
KR Demond Washington has been dangerous this season. Washington, who doubles as a starting cornerback, averages 25.0 yards per return, and he took one back for a touchdown against Ole Miss. Backup RB Onterio McCalebb has shown big-play ability on his few chances as a kickoff returner.
Backup WR Quindarius Carr has been mediocre as a punt returner, averaging 5.7 yards on 19 returns; he has had just six returns in the past eight games.
Auburn's punt coverage has been good; the Tigers have allowed just eight punts to be returned, and the longest return was 19 yards. The average return is just 5.5 yards.
The Tigers' kickoff coverage has been just as good, as foes are averaging just 19.8 yards per return. But Auburn has allowed one kickoff to be returned for a score, in a blowout win over FCS member Chattanooga.
The Tigers have blocked two kicks this season, a punt and a PAT.
Oregon PR Cliff Harris, who doubles as the Ducks' best cover corner, has made a huge impact as a punt returner this season. He leads the nation with a 19.5-yard average on 28 returns, and he has taken four back for scores -- two against New Mexico, one against Washington State and one against California. Backup RB Kenjon Barner also has a punt return for a score, against Tennessee. Barner is averaging 15.9 yards on eight returns, though he hasn't been used in that role since the fifth game of the season.
Backup WR Josh Huff has blazing speed and has put it to good use on kickoff returns, averaging 27.3 yards on 18 attempts. Barner has 11 returns but is averaging just 18.7 yards.
K Rob Beard is 9-of-12, including 2-of-3 from 40 yards and beyond. While his longest is just 42 yards, he does have a strong leg, as evidenced by 11 touchbacks on kickoffs.
P Jackson Rice averages 43.1 yards. Almost half his punts -- 17 of 35 -- have landed inside the 20-yard line.
Oregon has been excellent in terms of kickoff coverage, mediocre on punt coverage. The Ducks haven't allowed any return scores, though.
The edge: Oregon. While Byrum gives Auburn a big advantage at kicker, Harris has been phenomenal as a punt returner. And though Washington has taken a kickoff back for a score for Auburn, Huff actually averages more per kick return. Oregon also has the better punter, and its kickoff coverage is better. Auburn has the advantage on punt coverage. All in all, a slight nod to the Ducks.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.