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by | CBSSports.com

With apologies to Oregon, no ducking Auburn as the best

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AUBURN, Ala. -- With all due respect to our friends at Oregon, the best offense in college football resides in Auburn, Ala. It could very well be that the best team in all the land is located here as well.

And did I mention that the probable Heisman Trophy winner lives here, too?

I mean, seriously, what other conclusion could be drawn here in the cool of this early October evening in Alabama? It’s one thing to roll up 60 points on UCLA, as Oregon did so impressively on Thursday evening. But UCLA’s defense was ranked No. 65 out of 120 Division I-A teams. Its rushing defense was ranked No. 92.

Auburn, conversely, faced the nation’s No. 6 defense against the run (83.6 ypg) and simply shredded it for 440 yards rushing and 526 total yards on the way to a 24-17 victory over previously undefeated LSU.

Auburn QB Cameron Newton runs for 217 yards in a 24-17 win over LSU. (AP)  
Auburn QB Cameron Newton runs for 217 yards in a 24-17 win over LSU. (AP)  
“It was the No. 1 offense in the conference against the No. 1 defense. It was a clash of the Titans,” said quarterback Cameron Newton, who had 303 of those yards. “There were some serious licks being passed out there tonight but I think we were prepared for it.”

In the process of leading Auburn to an 8-0 start (5-0 SEC) Newton staked an almost rock-solid claim to become the school’s third Heisman Trophy winner. Newton ran for 217 yards on 28 carries, his fifth game of the season with over 170 yards rushing. That breaks the school record previously held by Bo Jackson, the 1985 Heisman Trophy winner.

Newton scored two touchdowns, including one on a twisting, turning 49-yard run that was a Heisman Trophy moment if ever I have seen one. Newton has now been responsible for 27 touchdowns this season (15 rushing, 12 passing). That breaks the Auburn record set by Pat Sullivan, the 1971 Heisman Trophy winner. Sullivan did it in 11 games. Newton did it in eight.

Newton did not strike the pose at the end of his 49-yard touchdown run, when he carried LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson into the end zone. But he should have. Newton now has 1,077 yards rushing. He was the nation’s second most efficient passer coming into this game and his 10 completions in 16 attempts for 86 yards is not going to hurt that.

“Somebody called the other day and asked me to compare Cameron to the other great quarterbacks at Auburn,” said Pat Dye, Auburn's coach from 1981-92. “I couldn’t do it. There was no point. Because there ain’t never been anybody else like him at Auburn. Never. There ain’t been nobody like him in this conference. Never.”

LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard also was impressed.

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"He's a great player, about the best in the country," Sheppard said. "Plain and simple. He's the best quarterback in the country."

This game was close on the scoreboard, thanks to some more trickeration from Les Miles and his merry band of pranksters. After Newton’s touchdown run, that included speed and balance that has to be seen to be believed, Auburn had a 17-10 lead going into the fourth quarter.

LSU, which had only 243 total yards on 67 plays, got a touchdown when quarterback Jordan Jefferson threw to running back Spencer Ware in the right flat. Ware, a high school quarterback, stopped and threw to Reuben Randle, who had gotten behind the Auburn secondary for a 39-yard touchdown. That tied the score at 17 with 12:16 left.

But Auburn, which has won five of its eight games by making the necessary plays in the fourth quarter, did it again. On second down from the Auburn 30-yard line, Onterrio McCalebb ran around his left end against a defense that was clearly preoccupied with stopping Newton. McCalebb didn’t stop running until he had covered 70 yards and gave Auburn its 24-17 lead with 5:05 left.

“Everybody knows what Onterrio can do,” Newton said. “We expect those kinds of plays from him.”

Auburn could have tacked on some style points at the end as it reached the LSU 3-yard line in the closing seconds. But Newton took a knee on the final play. No style points were needed.

The only question I have now is where the pollsters are going to put Auburn on Sunday. Both the Harris Interactive and the Coaches polls have them at No. 5. The BCS has them at No. 4. But friends I am here to tell you: There aren’t four better teams than the one I saw on Saturday.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “I just don’t know that there is a whole lot I can add to that.”

Indeed.

Auburn faces a classic trap game next week at Ole Miss. After a Homecoming game with Chattanooga on Nov. 6 comes what will be two tough closing games against Georgia (Nov. 13) at home and Alabama on the road on the day after Thanksgiving.

Auburn has not won an SEC championship since 2004, the year Tommy Tuberville’s team went 13-0 but did not get a chance to play for the BCS title. The Tigers haven’t won a national championship since 1957.

But if the team I saw on Saturday keeps showing up, and if Cameron Newton keeps this amazing string of performances going, I don’t see how you can bet against Auburn. This is the nation’s best team with the nation’s best player. They proved it again on Saturday.

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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