For the third straight year, Cam Newton's team is playing for a national title. And while this time around is a little different, Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner hopes the end result is exactly the same.
Two years ago, Newton watched Tim Tebow's Superman effort - 231 passing yards, two TDs and two INTs, with 109 rushing yards - lead Florida to a 24–14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami.
Although Newton was sitting out with an ankle injury (for which he was ultimately granted a medical redshirt) and in the process of transferring (due to legal issues and playing time concerns behind Tebow), he was most certainly a member of the Gators' 2008 national title team.
"Cam had a great experience at Florida," said Cam's father, Cecil, following the transfer. "We just feel Cam has all the tools to play at a major college level. He's going to start this new chapter of his life."
Newton turned his attention to junior college powerhouse Blinn (Texas) College, a team coached by Brad Franchione, the son of former TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione.
"They had a plan in place and when Tebow announced he was staying, (Newton) said he was coming here," Franchione told VYPE Magazine. "He wanted to get to a place where he could become a better passer. He felt he could run the ball in the SEC and he's proven that."
In his only season at Blinn, Newton led the Buccaneers to an 11–1 record, while passing for 2,833 yards, 22 TDs and five INTs, and scrambling for 655 rushing yards and 16 TDs.
Newton capped his 2009 season with a 31–26 win over No. 1-ranked Fort Smith (Kan.) CC in the NJCAA National Championship Game. The dangerous dual-threat signal-caller passed for 111 yards and one INT, and rushed for 110 yards and one TD en route to Blinn's fourth NJCAA national title.
"He's just so gifted and we were blessed to have him in our program," said Franchione. "He has that ‘it' quality. When he enters a room, you know it."
The 6'6", 250-pound junior from College Park, Ga., has certainly made his presence known since arriving at Auburn - leading the Tigers to a perfect 13–0 record, an SEC title and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game against Oregon.
Newton has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 2,589 yards, 28 TDs and six INTs, while tucking the ball to run for 1,409 yards and 20 TDs on the ground, and hauling in two catches for 42 yards and another score through the air.
Although Newton's obvious physical gifts stand out, his intangible qualities have been the difference this season. Newton has kept a Magic Johnson-like smile on his face despite constant, unparalleled media scrutiny and fan speculation surrounding his recruitment, his father and a potential play-for-pay scenario.
Through it all, Newton has held his head high and played with the type of seemingly-invincible swagger necessary to lead Auburn back from a 24–0 deficit against Alabama and pull off a 28–27 win on the road at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Iron Bowl.
"He's a great leader. He's got the ability, once he gets in the huddle, that all eyes are on him, and whatever he says, they're going to do. They really believe in him," said Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, during a BCS title game press conference.
"His leadership is definitely a big reason we're here."
The Tigers will rely on Newton's poise under pressure as well as the championship game experience he gained last year at Blinn. Granted, the lights will be brighter and the audience will be larger when Auburn takes on Oregon. But Newton has the same goal this year as he did last season - win a national championship.
"(The NJCAA title game) was a great atmosphere to be in. That's something I will take to my grave, just being around something that we worked very hard for. And, you know, this season kind of resembles that," said Newton, who has a combined 24–1 record as a starter at Blinn and Auburn.
"Hard work pays off."
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