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by | CBS Sports

Freakishly good Newton makes giant impact at Auburn

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AUBURN, Ala. -- Cameron Newton is that rarest of college football players in that he arrived at Auburn with the greatest of expectations and from Day 1 he has done nothing but exceeded them.

With gaudy stats, Cameron Newton is thriving in Guz Malzahn's offense. (US Presswire)  
With gaudy stats, Cameron Newton is thriving in Guz Malzahn's offense. (US Presswire)  
I mean, just LOOK at him. He is a physical freak in the most complimentary sense of the word. He is a 6-foot-6, 250-pound package of speed and strength who looks more like an All-SEC tight end than a quarterback. But a quarterback he is, and every day he gives the Auburn faithful a reason to believe that, despite the success of No. 1 Alabama, the defending national champion, their Tigers are going to eventually have a big say in who wins the SEC West in 2010.

"The best thing I can say about Cameron is that he has done everything we have asked him to do since he got here," Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. "He knew he would have to work to earn the position. He did that and he did it without a lot of ego. People expected him to be our quarterback, but he understood that he was not going to be given anything. And the rest of our players respect him for that."

Newton was not awarded the job until after spring practice, but anybody who watched knew this one was a no-brainer. Now everyone knows why. Auburn enters Saturday's game at Kentucky with a 5-0 record and a No. 8 national ranking. The Tigers won back-to-back nail-biters at home with Clemson and South Carolina. And when you win the close ones in the SEC it's usually because you have an edge, a difference maker. And for Auburn that edge is Newton.

Let us count the ways:

 On Sept. 25, Newton led Auburn to a 35-27 victory against No. 12 South Carolina. He ran 25 times for 176 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 16 of 21 passes for 158 yards and two additional touchdowns. He was the national quarterback of the week as named by the Davey O'Brien Foundation.

 He has been responsible for 20.4 points per game with his arm and his feet. That is tied for first nationally.

 He has completed 57 of 87 passes for 928 yards and 12 touchdowns. He is the nation's second most efficient passer.

 Newton entered last Saturday's game with Louisiana-Monroe as the SEC's leading rusher while registering 18.8 carries per game. But against ULM, Auburn intentionally did not call a single running play for him. Auburn won 52-3 as Newton completed 14 of 19 passes for 245 yards and three touchdowns. He lost 11 yards on a sack and is now the No. 4 rusher in the SEC at 94.8 yards per game.

"We are still learning how best to take advantage of Cameron can do," Chizik said. "Obviously he is a force when he runs the ball, but we also have to be smart in what we ask him to do. He understands that."

Newton is like nobody else in the SEC. He has Terrelle Pryor quickness but he is stronger. He has a Ryan Mallett arm and can throw it 50 plus yards with the flick of his wrist. On third down and less than 6, he exerts tremendous pressure on a defense. If his receiver is not open chances are he's going to get to the first down marker and move the chains. And when Gus Malzahn picks up the tempo of his spread offense with the big fella running it, just trying to keep up will absolutely wear a defense out. South Carolina simply gassed in the fourth quarter because Newton was relentless.

"There are things we can do with Cameron that work well in this offense," Malzahn said. "He obviously has skill. Our challenge is to take advantage of those skills but to also distribute the ball to our other playmakers. What we can't do is become predictable because we have a talented player at the quarterback position."

Newton is surrounded by a veteran offensive line and a ton of playmakers. He is the SEC's No. 4 rusher but two other Auburn backs, Onterio McCalebb and freshman Michael Dyer, are both in the Top 10. Auburn's receiving group is as good as any in the league with the possible exception of Arkansas.

"There are so many guys here who can make plays it's incredible," Newton said. "I am going to get some chances because that is what the quarterback does. But this offense is going to be good because we get a lot of people involved."

Newton not only brings skill and enthusiasm to his job, but the dedication of a man who knows he has gotten a real second chance in life. A native of Atlanta, he signed with Florida out of high school. He was a freshman in 2007 when a guy named Tebow became the starting quarterback. He planned to stick around and compete with Tebow but got sideways with the authorities when he purchased a laptop that turned out to be stolen. He entered a first-time offender program and the most serious charges were eventually dropped.

Newton decided to leave Florida and start over at Blinn College, a junior college program in Texas. In 2009 he led Blinn to a JUCO national championship as he passed for 2,883 yards and 22 TDs, and ran for 655 yards and 16 TDs.

"It [junior college] was quite an experience. That's for sure," Newton said. "It was about as far away from the SEC as you could possibly get. But the truth is that it made me grow up and made me realize what I had when I was at Florida. It made me realize how lucky I would be if I got a second chance."

After putting up those numbers at Blinn there was no shortage of schools willing to give Newton that second chance.

Former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen, now the head coach at Mississippi State, thought he had talked his former pupil into coming to Starkville. Newton already knew the offense. He had bonded with Mullen. It seemed like a natural fit.

But at the end of the day Newton looked at Malzahn's offense and saw an opportunity to do something special.

"The hardest phone call I've ever had to make in my life was to call Coach Mullen and tell him I was not coming to Mississippi State," Newton said. "Sometimes in life you just know where you are supposed to be. And I was supposed to be at Auburn."

Auburn is 5-0 for the second successive season. But in 2009 after a really fast start, SEC defenses began to make adjustments to Malzahn's offense and the Tigers weren't able to make their own adjustments with Chris Todd at quarterback. Todd was a smart player but did not have the physical skills to make plays with his feet like Newton.

"I'm an old defensive coordinator and when a quarterback is mobile he can put all kinds of pressure on a defense," said Chizik, a former defensive coordinator at Auburn for Tommy Tuberville and at Texas for Mack Brown. "It really makes a difference when the defense has to account for the quarterback."

For Auburn, the next three weeks are going to be intriguing. After playing four of its first five games at home, the Tigers go to Kentucky on Saturday. Then there are back-to-back home games with No. 13 Arkansas and No. 9 LSU. The goal at Auburn never changes: If Auburn can get to the Alabama game on Nov. 26 with no losses or only one loss, then the Iron Bowl will be for a trip to the SEC championship game in Atlanta.

"It didn't take me long to learn how big the Alabama game is," Newton said. "But I also learned at Florida that if you're not ready to play every week in the SEC, you're going to get beat. I just want to do my part."

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on The CBS College Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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