ATLANTA — Cam Newton still seems a little dazed by it all, how a guy who was playing at a junior college in Texas just a season ago has the Heisman Trophy in his grasp, his team just one win away from the national championship.
With his best performance yet in a week when NCAA pronounced him good to go, Newton accounted for six touchdowns in the Southeastern Conference championship game to lead No. 2 Auburn to a 56-17 rout of 18th-ranked South Carolina on Saturday.
"It's not even sunk in," said Newton, who threw for a career-best 335 yards and four touchdowns, plus ran for a pair of scores. "I've just been living the dream."
An even bigger game looms on 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 be facing a player that Auburn coach Gene Chizik calls the best he's ever seen at the college level. 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 certainly get no argument from coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks, who gave Auburn a tough game in the opening month of the season but never had a chance in this one.
"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."
The wins by Oregon and Auburn denied another team with a perfect record, TCU, a shot at becoming the first school from a non-BCS conference to play for the title.
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 City — 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 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. He slipped away from defenders with his surprising quickness, buying extra time to throw. He broke tackles with his power, not at all shocking given that he outweighed all three of South Carolina's starting linebackers by at least 25 pounds.
Or he just ran right over 'em.
Newton guided the Tigers (13-0) to touchdowns on their first three possessions, though South Carolina (9-4) was in the game as halftime approached. Trailing only 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, standing in front of Terrell Zachery, leaped to tip it away. But the deflected ball went right to Darvin Adams for an improbable 51-yard touchdown that changed the complexion of the game. After South Carolina missed a field goal on the first possession of the second half, it was all Tigers.
"That was huge momentum swing right before the half," Chizik said.
Maybe there's a bit of karma in how things worked out.
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