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October 20, 2010

Heisman Watch: Newton the front-runner

The awards watch
A weekly look at the top three candidates for some key postseason awards:
Outland (best interior lineman)
Butkus (most outstanding linebacker)
Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)
Thorpe (most outstanding defensive back)
Rimington (most outstanding center)
Biletnikoff (most outstanding wide receiver)
Doak Walker (best running back)
Mackey (top tight end)
Lou Groza (top kicker)
Ray Guy (top punter)

No. 2 now has to be No. 1.

Cameron Newton, who wears No. 2 for Auburn, has to be considered the No. 1 contender in the Heisman race after rushing for 188 yards and three touchdowns and passing for 140 and another score in a 65-43 victory over Arkansas last week.

"I don't have the opportunity to watch everybody in America, but I can tell you this: Number Two is one spectacular football player," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said after the game. "And I'm not one to go out on a limb, but everybody in the world sees it. It's not like I'm telling anybody anything new.

"He is a competitor. He wants the ball. He is humble. He keeps working and he gives us a chance to win every week. ... Like I said, I haven't seen everybody, but he has to be playing as good as the best ones."

What more could anyone want from a Heisman contender?

Newton is an effective passer. He ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

He's a rushing threat. So far, Newton has 860 yards, which is the nation's fifth-highest rushing total. He's also tied for the national lead with 12 rushing touchdowns.

Newton is a great leader. In three of the past four games, he has led the Tigers to victory in the fourth quarter. He threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter of a 35-27 win over South Carolina, accounted for 66 yards in an 86-yard drive for a winning field goal against Kentucky and threw a touchdown pass and ran for a TD in the fourth quarter of the come-from-behind win over Arkansas.

He's played well against good competition. Only one of Auburn's six opponents has a losing record.

Win. Auburn is 7-0 behind Newton.

And he doesn't appear to be the type to try to draw attention by flashing a Heisman pose. Even after his performance against Arkansas, he was spreading the credit around.

"The offensive line was the key," he said. "The whole running back corps, all of them, had an excellent game. So, it just wasn't me running the football; the glory goes to the whole offensive line."

Newton has to prove he can continue to play at a high level against strong defenses. The Tigers next face LSU, which is ranked third in the nation in total defense. Alabama, which is ranked 11th, and Georgia, which is ranked 14th, also remain on Auburn's schedule.

A bad outing or two could greatly damage Newton's Heisman hopes, as has been the case for Michigan's Denard Robinson, Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Arkansas' Ryan Mallett and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez.

Here is this week's top five:

1. QB Cameron Newton, Auburn: He's starting to draw comparisons to Vince Young. Young didn't win the Heisman, but Newton just might.

2. RB LaMichael James, Oregon: Last week's leader had a bye week, so he did nothing that would cause him to slip. He still leads the nation in rushing yards per game, at 169.6. One of the nation's most explosive players, he has rushed for 848 yards and nine touchdowns.

3. QB Kellen Moore, Boise State: A model of consistency, Moore passed for 231 yards and two touchdowns in an easy win over San Jose State. He's thrown for 1,567 yards and 16 touchdowns, with one interception. He leads the nation in passing efficiency.

4. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: Also one of the country's most efficient passers, Luck has thrown for 1,538 yards and 16 touchdowns, with four interceptions, in leading the Cardinal to a 5-1 record.

5. RB John Clay, Wisconsin: He has rushed for 100 yards in six of seven games and hasn't been held to fewer than 80. Clay has run for 11 touchdowns, including two in last week's 31-18 victory over Ohio State. He had 104 rushing yards against the Buckeyes.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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