ATLANTA (AP) - Cam Newton got an early start on awards week.
Already the overwhelming favorite for the Heisman Trophy, Newton
was a unanimous choice Monday for offensive player of the year on
The Associated Press All-Southeastern Conference team, leading
top-ranked Auburn's domination of the individual awards.
Teammate Nick Fairley was chosen as defensive player of the
year, while Gene Chizik was the pick as top coach after guiding the
Tigers to a 13-0 season, the SEC championship and a spot in the
national championship game at Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10.
Preventing an Auburn sweep was South Carolina running back
Marcus Lattimore, selected unanimously as the freshman of the year.
In addition to Newton, Fairley and Lattimore, five other players
were named to the first team on every ballot. Auburn offensive
lineman Lee Ziemba and Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams were joined
by three LSU players: defensive tackle Drake Nevis, cornerback
Patrick Peterson and kicker Josh Jasper.
Newton, who played sparingly at Florida and spent last season at
an obscure junior college in Texas, emerged as the game's most
dominating player after returning to the SEC.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder turned out to be a dynamic dual
threat. He led the conference in rushing with 1,409 yards, scored
20 touchdowns and often ran right over smaller linebackers and
defensive backs. But he was no slouch when he dropped back to
throw, either, leading the SEC in passing efficiency with 67
percent completions, 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions.
Newton was at his best in the SEC championship game, throwing
four TD passes and running for two scores in Auburn's 56-17 rout of
South Carolina that clinched a trip to the desert to face No. 2
Oregon for the national title. He also became just the second
player in the history of the NCAA's top division to run AND throw
for 20 TDs in a season; the first was Tim Tebow.
"You can't tackle him," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier
marveled. "He's almost a one-man show."
This will likely be the first of many rewards for Newton. In
addition to the Heisman, which is considered a foregone conclusion,
he is a finalist for the Davey O'Brien, Maxwell, Manning and Walter
Newton's season wasn't all smooth sailing. He was tarnished by
allegations that his father, Cecil, wanted a $180,000 payoff from
Mississippi State for his son to sign with the Bulldogs. The NCAA
ruled that Cecil Newton violated the rules, but also said neither
the player nor Auburn knew anything about the scheme, allowing Cam
Newton to remain eligible.
Chizik, who was an assistant at Texas when Vince Young led the
Longhorns to the national title, said Newton has put together an
even greater season.
"If you look over a 13-game span, I've never seen anything like
it," Chizik said. "We have one game left, so he can't get too big
of a head, but I can say he's probably the best football player
I've ever seen."
Fairley also played a junior-college season before joining the
Tigers. The 6-5, 298-pounder came on strong at the end of his
sophomore year, then emerged as one of the SEC's most fearsome
defenders as a junior.
Despite facing persistent double teams, Fairley had an
astonishing 21 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 10.5
sacks. He also made two fumble recoveries, caused a fumble and came
up with an interception.
"He's obviously a very gifted athlete," Chizik said. "He got
used to the system, he got used to college football and the speed
of the game at this level, and he just continued to get better."
Fairley was also one the SEC's most polarizing figures, with
some opponents accusing him of being a dirty player. He knocked
three quarterbacks out of games and faced the biggest outcry for
his actions against Georgia, when he was called for a late hit and
sent Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray to the sideline with a knee
injury in the closing minutes.
Chizik was a disputed choice to take over as Auburn's coach two
years ago, having posted a career record of 5-19 during a brief
tenure at lowly Iowa State. He went 8-5 in his inaugural season on
the Plains, but the signing of Newton was the catalyst for the
school's first perfect mark since 2004.
"Our football team has been probably one of the most resilient
group of young men I've seen in 25 years of doing this," said
Chizik, whose squad came from behind to win eight times - including
four double-figure deficits.
Lattimore helped lead South Carolina to the first division title
in school history, ranking second in the SEC behind Newton with
1,198 yards rushing and scoring 19 touchdowns.
Spurrier said it was important to sign players such as
Lattimore, who was one of the most touted prospects ever to come
out of the Palmetto State.
"We've been able to get a lot of the best players the last
three years," Spurrier said, also mentioning another pick to the
All-SEC team, sophomore receiver Alshon Jeffrey. "Prior to that,
most of the players were going to Georgia, somewhere else.
Tennessee used to get a bunch of them. We're starting to keep a lot
of the good players in state."
The rest of the first-team offense included running back Knile
Davis of Arkansas; receiver Julio Jones of Alabama; linemen Derek
Sherrod of Mississippi State, Barrett Jones of Alabama and DeMarcus
Love of Arkansas; center Ryan Pugh of Auburn; and all-purpose
player Randall Cobb of Kentucky.
On defense, the remaining first-teamers were end Devin Taylor of
South Carolina; linebacker-end hybrid Justin Houston of Georgia;
linebackers Kelvin Sheppard of LSU, Chris White of Mississippi
State, and Danny Trevathan of Kentucky; safeties Ahmad Black of
Florida and Mark Barron of Alabama; and cornerback Janoris Jenkins
The Gators also had the first-team punter, Chas Henry.
The only repeat selections to the elite team were Cobb and
Barron. Three first-teamers from the previous year slipped to the
second team: Georgia receiver A.J. Green, Florida center Mike
Pouncey and Alabama running back Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman
The 78th annual AP All-SEC team was selected by a regional panel
comprised of a dozen reporters and broadcasters.