EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — This season’s Bowl Championship Series is all about introductions.
Four of the five BCS matchups set Sunday are first meetings between the teams, highlighted by No. 1 Auburn against No. 2 Oregon in the national championship game.
The Tigers from the Southeastern Conference and Ducks from the Pac-10 will bring perfect records and potent offenses to Glendale, Ariz., for their Jan. 10 game. For both teams, it’ll be their first appearance in the national title game.
Arkansas and Ohio State play for the first time in the Sugar Bowl; Stanford and Virginia Tech square off for the first time in the Orange Bowl and the first meeting between Oklahoma and Connecticut will come in the Fiesta Bowl.
Rose Bowl participants Wisconsin and TCU have met once before — in 1970 the Badgers and Horned Frogs played to a 14-14 tie.
There was little suspense going into the announcements Sunday. The Tigers and Ducks knew Saturday when they completed their perfect regular seasons they were locked into the showdown at the University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the NFL’s Cardinals.
Oregon players gathered with friends and family in a lounge at the athletic complex on campus to watch as the BCS lineup was revealed on television. There wasn’t a peep in the room when Oregon (12-0) popped up on the screen at No. 2 in the final BCS standings behind first-place Auburn (13-0).
“There was no surprise to anybody that we were going to be one or two,” defensive tackle Brandon Bair said. “I think you’d have had a great response if you’d seen us down there four or five.”
Across the country, Auburn linebacker Craig Stevens had trouble putting his emotions into words. “It’s just an amazing feeling,” he said. “We’ve put in all that hard work (to) see our dreams unfold.”
The Tigers and Heisman Trophy front-runner Cam Newton will try to make it five straight BCS titles for the SEC.
The Ducks and their Heisman hopeful, tailback LaMichael James, will try to become the first Pac-10 team other than USC to finish the season No. 1 in both the AP and coaches’ polls.
For the second straight year, No. 3 TCU from the Mountain West Conference finished the regular season unbeaten — and unable to play for the national championship.
Yet nobody at Daniel Meyer Coliseum in Fort Worth seemed even slightly bummed about being relegated to the granddaddy of all bowl games. The Horned Frogs (12-0) likely would have earned a bid to the championship game if Oregon or Auburn would have lost, but the upset they needed never came.
So it’s off to Pasadena to face Wisconsin (11-1), which came out on top in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten.
“It would have been fun to see what would have happened if one of the teams went down, but that’s not how it happened,” TCU quarterback Andy Dalton, a 41-game winner as a starter. “There’s two great teams playing in the national championship game. … We’ll go out and prove how we play, and hopefully people will see that.”
It took only three seasons for Arkansas fans to see their team make a BCS game under coach Bobby Petrino.
“In going to BCS game, it’s a tremendous accomplishment for our football team,” said Petrino, who took Louisville to the BCS before bolting for the NFL in 2007. “It’s something when we came here as staff three years ago that was one of our goals. … It’s exciting to be able to know you’re going to play a big bowl game against one of the top programs in the country.”
No. 8 Arkansas (10-2) of the SEC has been to five Sugar Bowls.
No. 6 Ohio State (11-1), which won a share of the Big Ten, last played a postseason game in New Orleans in 2008, a BCS title game loss to LSU.
The Orange Bowl will be a matchup of turnaround teams.
Stanford’s first BCS bid caps a remarkable resurgence for the fifth-ranked Cardinal (11-1), who have gone from 1-11 to 11-1 in four years.
“I’m pretty much a historian of football, dating back 100 years,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “This is one of the best turnarounds I’ve witnessed in 50 years — what our youngsters have been able to accomplish. I’m very proud of them.”
No. 12 Virginia Tech is on the rise, too. The Hokies (11-2) have won 11 consecutive games, including a 44-33 victory Saturday over Florida State for their third Atlantic Coast Conference title in four years.
Fiesta Bowl officials were hoping Stanford slipped to them.
Instead they were left with Big East champion Connecticut (8-4) to face Big 12 champion Oklahoma (11-2).
The Huskies shared the Big East title with West Virginia and Pittsburgh, earning the automatic BCS nod through a tiebreaker. UConn closed out the regular season by beating South Florida Saturday night, but its list of losses includes Temple of the Mid-Atlantic Conference, 4-8 Rutgers and a shutout at the hands of 6-6 Louisville.
The Huskies are 26th in the BCS standings and 17-point underdogs for the game at the University of Phoenix Stadium, but they’re not apologizing for anything.
“Don’t get on UConn for what the system is,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “We happened to win the conference and we’re deserving to be there. We didn’t back our way into it. We won our way into it.”
AP sports writers Brett Martel in New Orleans, Greg Beacham in Los Angeles, Steve Wine in Miami, John Marshall in Scottsdale, Ariz., Stephen Hawkins in Forth Worth, Texas, and John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., contributed to this report.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.