- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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NEW YORK -- When the season began, the Auburn coaches did not know how good their quarterback might be. The Tigers' defense didn't have permission to tackle Cam Newton in their preseason work. Turns out no other defense could lay a hand on him, either.
Newton led Auburn to a No. 1 ranking and a berth in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game. He collected school and conference records as if they were Halloween candy.
And on Saturday night, Newton accepted the 76th Heisman Trophy on the stage of the Best Buy Theater in Times Square after a landslide victory, the 11th-biggest margin in the history of the award.
"This whole thing right now is just beyond me," Newton said. "I feel like I'm in a dream. I haven't woke up yet. It hasn't even come up to me what I just accomplished."
It is a lot to take in. Newton received 729 first-place votes, 24 second-place votes and 28 third-place votes, a total of 2,263 points on a 3-2-1 scale. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck finished second with 1,079 points. Oregon tailback LaMichael James finished a close third (916 points), and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore came in fourth (635 points).
Newton stood alone atop college football, just him and the elephant in the room that has accompanied him for the past six weeks. Newton didn't appear on 105 of the 886 ballots submitted, which means that either those voters are blind or they chose to make a statement regarding the investigation of Newton's eligibility.
Because Auburn sequestered him until about five minutes ago, Newton was asked questions about the investigation on the night of his greatest honor.
"I'm honestly not about to entertain [questions] regarding any situation about that right now," Newton said. "I think tonight takes along something that's very special to me right now. The last thing I would like to talk about is something of that caliber."
However, Newton did label the report that he had told Mississippi State in a phone call that Auburn had offered him too much money to turn down as "very inaccurate."
The investigation into Newton's recruitment cost him a good deal of worry, his eligibility for 24 hours and the presence of his father, Cecil Sr., at the Heisman ceremony. Before taking the stage lined with former Heisman winners, Newton shared a long embrace with his mother, Jackie.
"It's been hard for me. It's been extremely hard for her just to see how much her son has been through," Newton said. "I just wanted to hug her all night, just to make her feel at ease and tell her, 'It's over,' for this particular moment of our lives."
The investigation also cost Newton a clean sweep of the major All-America teams. The Football Writers Association of America released its team Saturday with Moore at quarterback and Michigan sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson as an all-purpose back.
The FWAA voted before the NCAA said it had no evidence against Newton "at this time." Those three words make it appear that the NCAA has not slammed shut the door on Newton's case. Asked whether he had any concerns that someday he might have to vacate his Heisman, as 2005 winner Reggie Bush of USC did earlier this year, Newton flashed a cold smile.
"Two letters for you, my friend," Newton said. "No."
In the end, the NCAA bounced off Newton the way so many tacklers have. With only the play on the field to consider, Heisman voters would have been mad to vote for anyone else.
Luck's second-place finish made Stanford the sixth school to have Heisman runners-up in consecutive seasons. Tailback Toby Gerhart lost narrowly a year ago to Alabama tailback Mark Ingram.
"As a player, he's awesome," Luck said of Newton. "He changes games like that [insert snap of the fingers here]. We were watching the Alabama game in our locker room. We went out at halftime for our Friday walk-through. We came back in, and 'Oh my God, what just happened?' Cam Newton happened."
Newton leads the nation in passing efficiency and stands 15th in rushing. He has accumulated 3,998 total yards and accounted for 49 touchdowns (28 passing, 20 rushing, 1 receiving). He played well in the first quarter (19-of-19 on opening drives) and in the fourth quarter (nine touchdowns, no turnovers).
"I think he's the best player on the field, regardless of the situation of the last month or two," James said. " I've seen highlights of him. He's always on ESPN. That's a good thing -- and a bad thing for us."
Oregon will play Auburn for the BCS National Championship one month from this past Friday.
Moore, whose fourth-place finish is the highest in school history, marveled at Newton's ability "to make big plays week after week. There's no question of him being deserving of this."
Newton joins quarterback Pat Sullivan (1971) and tailback Bo Jackson (1985) as Auburn players who have won the trophy named after a former Tigers coach. John Heisman went 12-4-2 at Auburn from 1895 to 1899.
Newton will be forever loved in the Loveliest Village on the Plains. Given the problems that he's faced in the past six weeks, Auburn fans have supported their quarterback with more than their trademark fervor. They created an impromptu "Tiger Walk" on Saturday evening for the two blocks from Heisman weekend headquarters at the Marriott Marquis to the theater.
His father, however, could share in his son's greatest achievement only from afar.
"I'd be sitting up here lying to you if I didn't say it hurt," Newton said to Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN during the Heisman telecast. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I love my father. He gave me words of encouragement before I came up here. I know he's with me in spirit."
Newton will become the ninth Heisman winner in the past 11 years to play in the BCS National Championship Game. The previous eight have been 2-6. For a guy who overcame legal and academic problems at Florida, who arrived at Auburn with one season of starting experience at a junior college, who went from all of that to win the best-known individual honor in American sports, those odds don't seem long at all.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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