The game was the first BCS National Championship Game not televised on network television, instead being aired on ESPN and simulcasted on ESPN3, and recorded a 16.1 rating, the highest overnight rating on record for a cable television program, topping the previous high of 14.4, set by Patriots/Saints on ESPN in 2009. This marked the second time that the National Championship under the current system was played in Arizona. It was also the first time that the BCS National Championship was streamed to a video game console, specifically the Xbox 360.
The Ducks led the conference in scoring offense (592 points, 49.3 average), rushing offense (42 touchdowns, 303.8 yards per game), rushing defense (11 touchdowns, 117.6 yards per game), and total offense (71 touchdowns, 537.5 yards per game). The team was led by tailback LaMichael James, who tops the conference with 1,682 yards on 281 carries, 21 touchdowns and averaging 152.9 yards per game. His longest carry was for 76 yards. Jeff Maehl was Oregon's top receiver at 78.58 ypg for 12 touchdowns. Casey Matthews had averaged 6.08 tackles per game for the Ducks, followed by Spencer Paysinger (5.7), Talmadge Jackson III (5.6) and John Boyett (5.6).
Oregon was wearing the Nike new Pro Combat uniforms, their 13th uniform combination worn this season.
The Tigers completed the season on top of the conference in scoring offense (42.7 points per game), rushing offense (287.2 yards per game) and total offense (497.7 yards per game). Auburn also led the conference in pass efficiency (174 of 261 passes, 6 interceptions, 66.7%, 29 touchdowns), third-down conversions (77 of 145, 53.1%) and first downs (316 or 24.3 per game). Quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton led the conference in rushing, pass efficiency, total offense, and scoring. On the receiving end, Darvin Adams caught 13 of 48 passes for 909 yards (69.92 ypg) and 7 touchdowns. Josh Bynes, Zac Etheridge and Neiko Thorpe made 199 tackles for the Tigers during the season.
Before the match a moment of silence was held for the victims of the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, two days before the game in which US Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and 6 others, including Federal Judge John Roll, were killed.
At halftime Auburn led 16-11; one of Auburn's scores was a safety where the Auburn defense tackled Oregon's LaMichael James in the Oregon end zone.
In the 3rd quarter Auburn kicker Wes Byrum kicked a 28-yard field goal to give Auburn a 19-11 lead. The teams traded possession several times until Oregon recovered a fumble on the Auburn 40-yard line with 5:05 minutes left. Oregon then drove down the field and scored a touchdown with 2:33 minutes remaining in the game. They added a two-point conversion to tie the score at 19-19.
On the game's final possession, Auburn drove 73 yards to the Oregon 1-yard line and won the game with a field goal as time expired. The drive included a run by Michael Dyer in which he appeared to be tackled after 6-7 yards, but fell on top of defender Eddie Pleasant with neither his knees nor the ball touching the ground. The Auburn sideline urged Dyer to continue after getting back up, and the Oregon defense finally tackled him after a 37-yard gain. The play was reviewed and the ruling on the field was upheld. Dyer then rushed for a touchdown, but a subsequent review showed that Dyer's knee went down before crossing the goal line. The touchdown was reversed and the ball placed at the Oregon 1-yard line. From there, Auburn ran the clock down to 2 seconds, and Wes Byrum kicked a game-winning kick as time expired, giving Auburn the national championship.
For the second time in BCS history, three different No. 1 teams (Oklahoma, Auburn, and Oregon) were ranked in the first three standings of the year. In 1998, the first season of the BCS, UCLA debuted at No. 1, followed by Ohio State and Tennessee.
Three teams from non-Automatic Qualify conference schools (TCU, Boise State, Utah) were ranked in the top-five at the same time after three weeks of BCS rankings. TCU ended the season as the No. 2 team and won the 2011 Rose Bowl game. TCU was picked by a postseason poll as having won a share of the National Championship, due to their 13-0 perfect record and win over #4 ranked Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.
This was the first meeting between the two schools in football. Auburn had played one school from the state of Oregon (Oregon State at Birmingham in 1973) and Oregon had not previously played a team from the state of Alabama. Auburn had a 5–3 record against Pac-10 teams while Oregon was 4–4 against the SEC.
As the Pac-10 and SEC never had a common bowl game tie-in during the entirety of the BCS-era, this is the only time that teams from those two conferences faced-off in a bowl game during those 16 years.
Two Auburn teams were undefeated in 1993 and 2004, but did not play for the national championship.
Seven BCS Championship game records were broken or tied, including the longest pass play when Darron Thomas passed to Jeff Maehl for 81 yards, the most team passing yards (374, Oregon), and most 2-point conversions (2). The combined passing yardage of the two teams (639 yards) were also the most in the games. Auburn's 85 total plays were a new record, exceeding the record set at the January 4, 2006 game between Texas and USC with 82 plays.
The game was played two days after the 2011 Tucson shooting, an attempted assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, that took the lives of several others, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. A moment of silence was held in honor of those lost before the game. Tucson is in Pima County in Arizona, and the adjacent county is Maricopa County, where Glendale is located.
Cam Newton's performance was somewhat limited due a back injury, evident at the game's conclusion when he was lying in pain waiting on the trophy presentation.