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Happily for Cam, Auburn and the SEC, the NCAA—lacking "sufficient evidence" to the contrary—concluded that Cecil had conducted his illicit business unbeknownst to his son. Thus was Cam reinstated, following a 24-hour suspension, three days before the conference title game. Even with investigations by the NCAA and FBI ongoing, Newton accounted for six touchdowns in that 56--17 beatdown of South Carolina. In the 13 games this season before Glendale, played mostly in the nation's toughest conference, Newton had his hand in 49 touchdowns (28 passing, 20 rushing, one receiving) and led the SEC in rushing (1,409 yards) even as he topped the nation in passing efficiency, with a mark of 188.2. That. Is. Simply. Not. Done.
Newton got a rough ride over the second half of the year from skeptics who found it implausible that his father could have been peddling his services without Cam's knowledge. The wisecracks never seemed to faze him. On Saturday after Saturday, at home and on the road, Newton took his case directly to his constituents—Auburn fans, whom he unfailingly joins in the stands after victories.
"You give and you get," Newton explained earlier this season. "You feed the crowd, and the crowd gives you this type of energy that [makes you] feel like you can do anything."
The architect of Auburn's offense doesn't exactly possess Newton's bottomless charisma. Second-year coordinator Gus Malzahn is a plainspoken, God-fearing, just-happy-to-be-here former high school coach who also happens to have one of the highest football IQs in the country. "If there was an 85-play script we were going over in film, and the 83rd play wasn't in there," says Auburn guard Byron Isom, "he would notice."
At 6'6" and 250 pounds, with 4.52 speed and a strong, accurate arm, Newton has skills that are fully utilized in Malzahn's offense—which isn't really a spread, he takes pains to point out. "We're a two-back, run, play-action team, with an emphasis on going fast and throwing vertically down the field," says the coach, a self-admitted football geek who calls to mind Gomer Pyle and Jimmy Neutron. Malzahn loves unbalanced lines and trick plays, which are so integral to the attack that the Tigers don't refer to them as trick plays. "We just see them as part of the offense," says wideout Kodi Burns.
The greaseboard in the Scottsdale, Ariz., office of Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti was a testament to his respect for Malzahn and Newton. On the right side of the board Aliotti had printed a list of LOOKS, out of which the Ducks would run their defenses. At the top of the list was the word CREEP, signifying a defense that allowed the Ducks free license to shift and roam until a moment before the snap, at which point they ran the defense Aliotti had called. "When I say Creep-Fox-Match, we're playing Fox-Match, but we're Creepin' it," he said two days before the title game. "It'll be friggin' nuts [presnap]."
How often had he used Creep in his 35-year coaching career? "Never," he said. "It's crazy, but we're going for craziness. This thing could end up 62--10 [in Auburn's favor]. I want to wake up Tuesday morning, look in the mirror and say, we were 12--0, playing for the national championship, and we let it all hang out.
"The bottom line is, we can't let Cam Newton beat us with his feet. If we lose with Newton throwing the ball, so be it. That is, in my opinion, the lesser of his strengths."
Early on Aliotti looked like a genius. Newton looked befuddled for the entire first quarter. He took an eight-yard sack on Auburn's first possession and was intercepted by Harris on the second.
On third-and-five on the Tigers' next series, he looked across the line, only to see Ducks defenders wandering and milling around. Yes, indeed: They were Creepin' it. Thoroughly confounded, Newton was drilled for yet another sack. For just the third time in the 13-year history of the BCS title game, there was no score in the first quarter.