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Auburn's Cam Newton runs away with it all

Heisman-winning quarterback can't be stopped by opposing teams, a scandal, the Southeastern Conference and NCAA. His overall pleasantness and cheery demeanor make him a difficult target for poaching.

January 06, 2011|Chris Dufresne

Reporting from Scottsdale, Ariz. — A new year poses an old question: Who is going to stop Auburn quarterback Cam Newton?

Kentucky couldn't do it. He rushed for 198 yards.

South Carolina, in two losses against Newton, "held" him to 493 passing yards and 249 rushing.

Louisiana State, which has a pretty decent defense, watched Newton cut loose for 217 rushing yards in October.

A scandal didn't stop Newton, and neither did the Southeastern Conference, nor the NCAA.

More than 100 Heisman Trophy voters left Newton off their ballots, yet he still received 82.2% of the first-place love in a runaway election.

Newton, it seems, has run away from everyone and everything.

The best anyone could do was throw a spike strip down in front of Cecil Newton, Cam's father, who was fingered for shopping his son to Mississippi State — but not to Auburn.

The closest Cam Newton has come to being contained may have been Wednesday, when he was surrounded by cameras, tape recorders and reporters at a swank resort here.

For 30 minutes, Newton couldn't escape the pocket. He has moved deftly from man-under-scrutiny to man-of-this-moment.

Newton's overall pleasantness and cheery demeanor make him a difficult target to incessantly poach.

What is there left to say?

The NCAA, despite a recruiting mystery that may never be resolved, green-lighted Newton to stage that ridiculous comeback win against Alabama, toy with South Carolina in the SEC title game, win the Heisman and face Oregon on Monday in the Bowl Championship Series title game.

Reporters have entered a "Cam-fatigue" stage, evidenced by Wednesday's relatively tame Q & A exchanges.

"I think the whole process has made me stronger," Newton said of the controversies that have swirled around his 13-0 season.

Is your dad coming?

"Yes, he's coming," Newton said.

What about all that trouble at Florida, where you transferred out after a computer caper and insinuations of possible test tampering?

"Well," Newton said, "I know when I was at Florida I was very immature and I was a boy.… I think I have matured and grown into a man."

By man, we're talking 6-feet-6 and 250 pounds, playing the quarterback position as few have played it.

"He's like an 8-year-old trapped in a giant's body," Auburn center Ryan Pugh offered Wednesday.

Stopping Newton is now Oregon's enormous problem. Newton sat relaxed and refreshed as he answered questions, in stark contrast to Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti, the man who followed Auburn Elvis into the interview room.

Newton and Aliotti both slept like babies this week. The difference is, Aliotti said he wakes up screaming every few hours.

Aliotti spent his half-hour on the witness stand in a state of heightened animation, his arms flailing as fast as his words spewed.

It was, basically, 30 minutes of "What do you want me to say?"

How does he stop Cam Newton?

"I've been answering that question since Dec. 6!" Aliotti exclaimed.

And he still isn't sure.

"The first thing we have to do is stop Cam Newton, whatever that means," Aliotti explained. "We've got to stop Cam Newton first, and work our way out."

The numbers tell almost everything. Newton, in probably his one and only year at Auburn, has scorched every grid of the gridiron. He won the Heisman Trophy, the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell awards, and completed 67.1% of his passes for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns with only six interceptions.

A great year with those passing numbers alone goes off the charts when you add 1,409 rushing yards and 20 more touchdowns.

"He's bigger than eight of our defensive starters," Aliotti said.

Few are giving Oregon's defense much of a chance.

Ducks linebacker Spencer Paysinger said he has a female friend who attends Auburn who has "been talking a bunch of smack lately."

Smack as in…?

"That Cam is going run all over me," he said. "I went to elementary school with her since I was 6 years old."

Nice friend. Yet Paysinger won't dispute the general parameters of Oregon's dilemma.

"He's every bit of 6-6 and 250," Paysinger said of Newton.

Linebacker Casey Matthews, 6-2 and 235, almost had to excuse himself after watching film.

"It's kind of frightening when you see him," Matthews said of Newton.

No one with an Oregon driver's license can remotely emulate in practice what Newton is going to bring into Monday's game.

The part of Newton is being played by Daryle Hawkins, a 6-4 redshirt freshman.

Aliotti says Hawkins is doing a nice job.

"He will definitely win 'scout team player of the week,' no matter what happens," Aliotti quipped.

The investigative arm of the Newton chronicles has clearly abided. Now we're back to Newton and his stiff arm.

Auburn Coach Gene Chizik, during the worst of it, ran brilliant public relations interference, and Auburn players have resolutely rallied around their meal ticket.

"As an offensive lineman, you don't just protect your quarterback on the field," said Pugh, Auburn's center.

Newton skips merrily along the way. A year ago, he was leading Blinn College in Texas to a junior college national title, never imagining what was to happen in a matter of months.

"Right now I'm pinching myself because I feel like I'm in a dream every single day I wake up," he said.

Aliotti wakes up in a sweat. He attentively answered every question Wednesday and a few more as he exited the room.

He was finally led away, almost like a man off to prison, by an Oregon press official.

"It's time to play," Aliotti said, "although I can use about three or four more days of practice. … I'm excited, this is what I do for a living."

He can only hope his living Monday isn't a living hell.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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