Jan. 6, 2011
By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Quick: Who's Auburn's leading tackler? Hint: He's a three-year starter and the top-ranked Tigers' defensive playcaller and vocal leader.
Still stumped? Middle linebacker Josh Bynes has floated mostly under the radar lining up behind Lombardi Award winner Nick Fairley, and that's baffling to at least one interested observer.
"I don't know why he doesn't get much attention," said Oregon tailback LaMichael James, who will likely meet up with Bynes a few times in Monday's national championship game.
"I think he's a great player. I think he's one of the top linebackers in the country. He makes a lot of plays. He doesn't miss very many tackles. He really calls the defense. He really gets things set up."
Fairley has nabbed the awards and honors on a defense that really has only one bona fide star. He's an All-American, while the biggest honor Bynes has gotten is second-team All-Southeastern Conference.
He's the guy behind the guy, a fast-talking, cerebral linebacker who is steady but unspectacular.
"Josh Bynes is a great leader," Fairley said. "He is a great guy and the type of guy that works behind the scenes."
On Thursday, Bynes spent 30 minutes politely fielding a half-dozen questions from reporters on Fairley and about the same on James and even more on facing Oregon's fast-paced offense. It didn't seem to bother him that nobody much wanted to talk about Josh Bynes. Maybe he's used to that.
"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "Underrated is fine with me."
Sure, he leads the team in tackles, but his modest 71 stops is far from the 104 he managed last season. He will be a key figure in getting the Tigers lined up on every play against a fast-paced Ducks offense that leaves not a moment to spare, another duty that will likely go mostly unnoticed Monday night.
"Josh is pretty much the head man on defense," outside linebacker Craig Stevens said. "A lot of guys call him by the nickname 'Cap' because he makes all the checks and calls."
Bynes has had scattered moments of glory this season. He forced a fumble and then picked off a South Carolina pass near the goal line late to help preserve a win.
He had two more fourth-quarter interceptions against Arkansas, both setting up touchdown drives as the Tigers rattled off 28 consecutive points in a 65-43 win. He also had 11 tackles, including eight solo stops, and a sack against LSU.
But in those three games, Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton stole the show with a combined 581 yards rushing that included a few highlight-reel runs.
In one respect, Bynes and not Fairley defines an Auburn defense that mostly gets overshadowed by Newton and the offense. After all, the Tigers defense rank 54th nationally overall and 105th against the pass.
He insists the lack of attention is OK with them.
"It doesn't matter to us," Bynes said. "We're just going to go out there and just continue playing defense. We know there's no 11 against one on defense. It's all 11 guys on offense and all 11 guys on defense, and I could care less who they talk about the most. It's all about who's going to win on Jan. 10."
Whoever that is, Bynes figures one of the defenses will have to come up big along the way, even if the two high-powered offenses steal the show. It would be enough to give the defenders from both teams an inferiority complex.
"I haven't seen a defensive highlight from either team since the commercials about the national championship (started airing)," Bynes said. "That's fine with us. We don't care. It doesn't really matter, because we know that either us or Oregon, somebody's going to have to step up defensively and win the game."