A look at some of the people you'll want to keep an eye on during tonight's BCS National Championship Game. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of who will be important, but it should be a primer. Remember to stop by our open thread to share your thoughts about the game, and enjoy the college football regular season finale.
What can you say about Newton that hasn't already been said. He has a smile with an impact best measured in megatons, the ability to change any game in a second and a path of controversy a mile wide. For Auburn fans and those who simply like Newton, he is the comeback story of the year. For those who don't like Auburn, or find some way to dislike the quarterback, he is part of a massive scam that has managed to stay a few steps ahead of the NCAA. But love him or hate him, Newton will almost certainly have generated more than 4,000 yards of total offense this season when the night is over, and has a decent shot at crossing the 50-touchdown milestone. Because while there are those who think that Newton is corrupt, there aren't many who think he isn't a great football player.
James, who placed third in the Heisman voting, has the dubious distinction of joining with Newton to form one of the most scandal-tainted duo of finalists ever. James was accused of domestic violence in the offseason before pleading guilt to harassment and being suspended for the first game of the season. Since returning to the field, James has rushed for 1,682 yards and 21 touchdowns on 281 carries. That got him to New York City, where he lost the Heisman to Newton. If Oregon is going to win tonight, they'll need a big night from their biggest star.
Fairley has developed -- Georgia fans would say "earned" -- a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the sport. Some of that is due to his rough treatment of Dawgs QB Aaron Murray, and some of that is because everyone connected with Auburn is going to be under an increased level of scrutiny because the team is playing for a national title. Fairley's statistics are imposing enough: 10.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, 21 quarterback hurries, an interception and two fumble recoveries. He could be involved in a personal foul tonight, or a normal play could escalate if oversensitive Oregon players aware of Fairley's reputation take it personally.
After burning his redshirt in 2008 and then wearing it again in 2009, there was little reason to think that Darron Thomas could beat out Nate Costa for the starting job in the offseason. Think again. Thomas not only won the job, he started putting up numbers that were almost Dennis Dixon-esque: Completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,518 yards and 28 TDs, rushing for 492 yards and five more touchdowns. If it weren't for James' breakout year and the perception that Thomas' numbers were a function of his system, the Oregon quarterback would have been a strong candidate for Heisman. He should have been anyway, and he might yet be.
Rarely does a head-coaching hire inspire enough passion in the fan base to prompt people to show up at the airport and meet the athletics director as he returns home. Even more rarely are fans moved to show up and decry the AD, telling him, "We want a leader, not a loser" -- and then post the entire exchange on YouTube. Gene Chizik is such a man. Mr. 5-19, his critics called him, a reference to his less-than-stellar reign at Iowa State after a promising career as defensive coordinator at Auburn and Texas. But the former Florida player and his offensive coordinator -- Gus Malzahn -- set the conference on fire with an innovative spread attack that led to an 8-5 record in 2009 and a surprise bid for the national title in 2010.
Chip Kelly actually spent a year as a defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins back in 1993. What a waste. Just two years into his head coaching tenure at Oregon, Kelly has become one of the most acclaimed offensive minds in football, an architect for this year's most explosive attack. The New Hampshire offense shattered 29 school records under his direction in 2004; his best year at the school is thought to be 2005 -- which is notably not the same year as the season during which the team broke 29 records. Kelly was named coach-in-waiting at Oregon in 2008 and, in one of the few examples of the strategy working, took over in 2009. This year, he's got his team in the national championship game.
NICK ALIOTTI and TED ROOF
There are two people whose job you do not want Monday, and both of them are on the same side of the ball. Nick Aliotti is defensive coordinator for the Ducks, which gives him the responsibility for stopping Cam Newton, a Brinks truck with a rocket-launcher for an arm. Aliotti has been with Oregon since 1999 in his most recent tour of duty and has spent 19 years at the school overall. He's also coached at UCLA and in the NFL. Ted Roof was hired to take over the Auburn defense after being the coordinator at Minnesota, to uneven effect. Roof also had an ill-fated turn as the head coach at Duke. Before then, though, he was a pretty highly regarded coach. If he figures out a way to stop the Ducks' offense, he will be once more.