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Auburn soars to the top

ATLANTA — Cam Newton still seems a little dazed by it all, how a guy who was playing at a junior college in Texas a season ago has the Heisman Trophy in his grasp, his team one victory away from the national championship.

With his best performance yet in a week when the NCAA cleared him to play, Newton accounted for six touchdowns in leading No. 2 Auburn to a 56-17 rout of No. 18 South Carolina in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday.

"It's not even sunk in," said Newton, who threw for a career-best 335 yards and four touchdowns and ran for two scores. "I've just been living the dream."

An even bigger game looms Jan. 10.

Auburn, which came into the day leading the Bowl Championship Series standings, wrapped up its spot in the title game against top-ranked Oregon, which secured a trip to Glendale, Ariz., with a 37-20 victory over Oregon State.

The Ducks will face a player whom Auburn coach Gene Chizik calls the best he has ever seen in college. That includes Vince Young, who was at Texas when Chizik was the Longhorns' defensive coordinator.

"When you look at the 13-game span, I've never seen anything like it," Chizik said. "It's running the ball. It's throwing the ball. Usually great quarterbacks do one or the other better. What God has blessed Cameron with is the ability to be really, really good at both."

He'll get no argument from coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks.

"You can't tackle him," Spurrier said after being denied his seventh SEC title. "He's almost a one-man show, but those guys really help, and their receivers are really good. With that offensive line and him, it's hard to stop him."

Before the national title is decided, Newton will likely be picking up the college game's top individual honor when the Heisman Trophy is awarded next weekend in New York — especially after the NCAA cleared him of any wrongdoing in a pay-for-play recruiting scandal involving his father.

Hard to imagine the Heisman vote even being close after the 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior followed former Florida star quarterback Tim Tebow as only the second player in the history of football's top division to run and pass for 20 touchdowns in a season.

The Tigers set an SEC Championship Game record for points and piled up 589 yards. Newton, who was named the game's MVP, had a hand in 408 of them, breaking his previous best of 317 yards passing against Chattanooga and leading Auburn in rushing with 14 carries for 73 yards. Despite two big drops, Darvin Adams set another SEC title game record with 217 yards on seven receptions.

Newton guided the Tigers (13-0) to touchdowns on their first three possessions, though the Gamecocks (9-4) were in it as halftime approached.

Trailing 21-14, the Gamecocks simply had to knock down Newton's last-gasp heave on the final play before the break.

They couldn't even do that.

Newton launched one up, and 6-foot-2 DeVonte Holloman leaped to tip it away. But the deflected ball went right to Adams for a 51-yard touchdown.

"We looked pretty stupid on that last play," Spurrier said as he walked off the field, "but sometimes that happens."

And after the Gamecocks missed a field goal on the first possession of the second half, it was all Tigers.

Newton ran right over Antonio Allen on a 1-yard touchdown, sending the linebacker tumbling to make it 35-14. The Auburn star finished his day with a 7-yard scoring pass to Emory Blake in the right corner of the end zone for a 49-14 lead.

Newton spoke with the media for the first time in nearly a month, but he refused to take questions about the allegations that threatened to wreck his glorious ride. The NCAA ruled that his father, Cecil Newton, concocted a payment scheme for his son to sign with Mississippi State but ruled that neither Cam nor Auburn knew anything about it.

"I've done nothing wrong," Newton said, reading from a statement. "I will only answer questions about football and this game. I ask that you respect that."

Before the game, SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the established facts of Newton's case merited the NCAA's swift reinstatement of the quarterback.

Slive told the Associated Press that the priority for the reinstatement committee "is to determine what's fair to the student-athlete."

Newton won the SEC title in his hometown of Atlanta and one year removed from Blinn Junior College in Texas, where he spent last season after beginning his college career at Florida as a little-used backup behind Tebow.

Meanwhile, Spurrier was denied another SEC title. The offensive mastermind who led Florida to a half-dozen titles in his 12 years at the Swamp was a flabbergasted, visor-throwing mess on the sideline.

"I apologize to Carolina fans that came," Spurrier said. "That was the loudest pregame I've ever been to in my life. I wish we could have given them something to cheer about during the game, but we couldn't do it. Auburn was too good for us."

South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, a former Jefferson High standout, didn't have nearly as impressive of a game. He went 16-of-28 for 170 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

"If we played these guys 10 times," Spurrier said, "they may win nine of them … or more."

Auburn soars to the top 12/04/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 4, 2010 11:12pm]
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