Cam Newton puts stamp on title game
ATLANTA -- With the final seconds ticking away in Saturday's SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome, Auburn offensive linemen Mike Berry and Byron Isom hoisted quarterback Cam Newton on their shoulders and carried him to midfield.
It's about time the Tigers carried Newton on their backs.
Newton put the finishing touches on one of the most remarkable seasons in SEC football history Saturday, throwing for four touchdowns and running for two more in the No. 1 Tigers' 56-17 rout of No. 19 South Carolina in front of a sold-out crowd of 75,802.
Auburn finished 13-0 and clinched a trip to the Jan. 10 Tostitos BCS National Championship Game in Glendale, Ariz., where it will play No. 2 Oregon for its first national title since 1957.
"I saw it in their eyes that it was going to be their finest hour," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
Just six years ago, Auburn finished 12-0 by defeating Tennessee 38-28 in the SEC championship game on the same field. But the Tigers were left out of the BCS National Championship Game, and USC routed Oklahoma 55-19 to win at least a share of a national title for the second season in a row.
The 2004 Tigers, who were led by NFL players like Ronnie Brown, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams, Carlos Rogers and Marcus McNeill, were probably collectively better than this Auburn team.
But the previous Auburn football team to finish undefeated -- or any other SEC team in history for that matter -- didn't have a player quite like Newton, either.
"If you look over a 13-game span, I've never seen anything like it, to be honest with you," Chizik said. "It's running the ball. It's throwing the ball. Usually great quarterbacks do one or the other better. I think what God's blessed Cameron with is the ability to do both really, really well. He's probably the best football player I've ever seen."
Newton, a junior from College Park, Ga., grew up about 15 miles south of the Georgia Dome. Playing in his hometown again, Newton completed 17 of 28 passes for 335 yards, while running 14 times for 73 yards.
Newton tied an SEC championship game record with six touchdowns and his 408 yards of total offense were second-most by a player in the game.
"You can't tackle him," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "He's got about four, five, six seconds back there. Auburn's offensive line is one of the best in the nation. They're good. He's almost a one-man show, but those guys really, really help."
South Carolina's defense never had a chance in trying to slow him. Newton threw a 62-yard pass to Darvin Adams on the second play from scrimmage, and the Tigers scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to take a 21-7 lead.
After the Gamecocks scored to make it 21-14 with 16 seconds to play in the first half, Auburn got the ball back at its 41-yard line. On the final play of the half, Newton fired a 51-yard touchdown pass to Adams, who caught the ball off safety DeVonte Holloman's deflection.
Just like that, South Carolina's hopes were over.
"He ran the ball; he passed the ball," Gamecocks defensive tackle Travian Robertson said. "We couldn't get him down."
Newton became only the third player in major college football history to both run and throw for at least 20 touchdowns in the same season, joining former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and current Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick.
Like Tebow, Newton is going to win the Heisman Trophy. If not for the fact Newton was at the center of one of college football's biggest scandals in recent history, he might have won the Heisman Trophy in the most lopsided vote ever.
The NCAA reinstated Newton's eligibility Wednesday, a day after he was ruled ineligible by Auburn officials because his father, Cecil Newton, broke NCAA rules by soliciting as much as $180,000 from Mississippi State boosters for his son to play there. Auburn and NCAA officials agreed that Cecil Newton was involved in a pay-for-play plan, but the NCAA didn't suspend Cam Newton because it said he was unaware of the scheme.
Cam Newton and his father have said very little since allegations of the pay-for-play scheme broke Nov. 4. Auburn officials made him off-limits to the media for much of the last three weeks, but SEC rules required him to meet with reporters after Saturday's game.
Newton read a prepared statement Saturday night, in which he repeated that he has done nothing wrong, and then requested that reporters only ask football-related questions. When a reporter asked if Newton's father would accompany him to next week's Heisman Trophy presentation in New York, Chizik cut off Newton before he could answer.
"We're going to stay away from those questions right now and stay football related, with all due respect," Chizik said.
Newton's mother, Jackie, was spotted in the stands of the Georgia Dome on Saturday night. It was unclear if Cecil, who now only has limited access to the Auburn team, attended the game.
Somehow, Cam Newton has stayed focused through it all.
"Honestly, it hasn't even sunk in right now," Newton said. "I've just been living a dream. This whole year, I've just been living a dream."
The Tigers hope their dream ends with Newton being carried off another field in 37 days.
"When they told me they wanted to put me on their shoulders, I thought it was a joke at first," Newton said. "But as I went up in the air, it hit a part of my heart that I will never take away."
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book is available in stores and can be ordered here. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.