ATLANTA (AP) - Cam Newton left nothing to chance. He ran and passed the Auburn Tigers to a shot at the national championship they were denied six years ago, and he might as well start working on that Heisman pose, too.
Newton passed for a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns, plus ran for a pair of TDs in an MVP performance that led Auburn to the Southeastern Conference championship with a 56-17 rout of Steve Spurrier and South Carolina on Saturday.
The Tigers, who came into the day sitting atop the Bowl Championship Series standings, must wait 24 hours before getting the official word, but it's nothing more than a formality: They'll be playing Oregon for the national title on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.
The Ducks beat Oregon State 37-20 to assure the unbeaten matchup, which denied another perfect team, TCU, a shot at becoming the first team from a non-BCS conference to play for the title.
Before the national title is decided, Newton will likely be picking up the college game's top individual honor when the Heisman Trophy is awarded next weekend in New York City - especially since he was cleared of wrongdoing by the NCAA in a pay-for-play scandal.
Hard to imagine the vote even being close after the 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior followed Tim Tebow as only the second player in the history of the top division to run AND pass for 20 touchdowns in a season. He slipped away from defenders with his surprising quickness, buying extra time to throw. He broke tackles with his power, not at all shocking given that he outweighed all three of South Carolina's starting linebackers by at least 25 pounds.
Or he just ran right over 'em.
Newton guided the Tigers (13-0) to touchdowns on their first three possessions, though South Carolina (9-4) was in the game as halftime approached. Trailing only 21-14, the Gamecocks simply had to knock down Newton's last-gasp pass on the final play before the break.
They couldn't even do that.
Newton heaved one up and DeVonte Holloman, standing in front of Terrell Zachery, leaped to tip it away. But the deflected ball went right to Darvin Adams for an improbable 51-yard touchdown that changed the complexion of the game. After South Carolina missed a field goal on the first possession of the second half, it was all Tigers.
Maybe there's a bit of karma in how things worked out.
While many will surely consider any title to be tainted because of Newton's father seeking out illegal payments during the recruiting process, the Tigers can counter that this makes up for the 2004 season.
Auburn went 13-0 that year but didn't get a chance to even play for the national title. Instead, USC and Oklahoma met in the Orange Bowl, with the Trojans winning in a 55-19 romp.
This game was nearly as lopsided. In the second half, Newton ran right over Antonio Allen on a 1-yard touchdown, sending the linebacker tumbling onto his back to make it 35-14. The Auburn star finished his day with a nifty little 7-yard scoring pass to Emory Blake in the right corner of the end zone for a 49-14 lead.
Well, there was one more snap to take.
Newton was sent out only so he could come right back off to a fitting ovation for the Auburn side of the Georgia Dome. He waved his arms, pumped his fists and was wrapped up in a big hug from coach Gene Chizik when he got to the sideline. Then he yucked it up with 1985 Heisman winner Bo Jackson, who watched the game standing on the Tigers bench.
"Heisman! Heisman! Heisman!" the orange-clad fans roared.
Auburn will give the SEC a chance to add to its already unprecedented streak of four straight national titles, which began with Florida in 2006 and was carried on by LSU, Florida again and Alabama last season.
Spurrier was denied another SEC title. The offensive mastermind who led Florida to a half-dozen championships in his 12 years at the Swamp was a flabbergasted, visor-throwing mess on the sideline, watching his team get blown out by an Auburn team that had struggled to beat the Gamecocks in the opening month of the season.
In fact, the Tigers have played from behind much of the year, overcoming double-digit deficits four times - most notably, rallying from 24 points down against Alabama - and smaller margins in four other wins.
The drama was lacking in this one. It became a full-fledged rout when the defense took aim at South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, whose attempt at flipping away a screen pass under heavy pressure wound up right in the arms of cornerback T'Sharvan Bell, who returned it 10 yards for a touchdown and a 42-14 lead midway through the third period.
Newton could have some fun. After his final run - a typical effort in which he faked out one guy and jumped over another - he flipped the ball to an official and inadvertently knocked off his cap. No problem. Newton scooped it up, put it back on his head and, with a big smile, gave the official a pat on the backside.
After picking up his MVP award, Newton headed off on a familiar victory lap. He ran all the way to the opposite end of the Georgia Dome, slapping hands with the Auburn fans gathered along the railing.
Now, it's on to the Big Apple, and then to the Arizona desert.
The Tigers set an SEC championship game record for scoring and piled up 589 yards. Newton had a hand in 408 of them, breaking his previous best of 317 yards passing against Chattanooga and leading Auburn in rushing with 14 carries for 73 yards. Despite two big drops, Adams set another SEC championship record with 217 yards on seven receptions.
Newton and the Tigers were unstoppable at the beginning of the game, scoring on their first three possessions.
After winning the toss and - no surprise - electing to receive so they could get their offense right on the field, Newton stunned the Gamecocks with a bit of chicanery on the second snap of the game. He looked to his left and pumped like he was going to throw, but held on to the ball. Then he faked a handoff to another player coming around on an apparent reverse. Finally, with South Carolina totally confused, Newton hit Adams in stride on a 62-yard pass.
Two plays later, Newton scrambled away from pressure and hit Onterio McCalebb for a 12-yard score.
South Carolina came up with the matching touchdown on its first possession, driving 75 yards in seven plays. Garcia completed all four passes on the drive, the last of them a 25-yarder over the middle to Patrick DiMarco.
Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, that meant kicking the ball back to Auburn. The Tigers went right down the field again, more methodical this time but with the same result. Newton did the scoring himself, breaking up the middle on a 5-yard touchdown run.
Finally, someone made a defensive stop. Garcia missed on a third-down pass over the middle, South Carolina was forced to punt it away, and Newton fashioned another lightning-quick, four-play touchdown drive. An 18-yard pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen gave the Tigers some room to work with, then Newton got the Gamecocks to bite on a pump fake that left Adams streaking all alone down the sideline. Newton hit him in stride for a 54-yard touchdowns.
Just like that, Auburn was ahead 21-7 before the first quarter was even done.
2010 SEC Championship Game Notes:
Auburn: 17 Josh Bynes, 18 Wes Byrum, 73 Lee Ziemba
South Carolina: 91 Ladi Aiiboye, 34 Spencer Lanning, 83 Cliff Matthews, 47 Patrick DiMarco
• Auburn has now won two SEC Championship Games and seven SEC titles, its first since 2004. Its seven titles are the sixth most in league history.
• Auburn improves to 2-2 in SEC Championship Games and South Carolina falls to 0-1 in SEC Championship Games.
• Auburn’s Cam Newton is the 2010 SEC Championship Game’s Most Valuable Player. He finished 17-of-28 passing for 335 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed 14 times for 73 yards and two touchdowns.
• Today’s attendance of 75,802 is the fourth largest crowd in SEC Championship Game history.
• With Auburn’s victory, the higher ranked team has won 13 of the 19 SEC Championship Games.
• With Auburn’s victory, Western Division teams improve to 8-11 in SEC Championship Games.
• Auburn’s 56 points and eight touchdowns are both SEC Championship Game records. The combined 73 points are the second most in SEC Championship Game history, behind the 75 combined points in 1996, which Florida won 45-30 over Alabama.
• Auburn’s 39 point victory is the largest in an SEC Championship Game. The previous largest was 31 in 1995 (Florida 34, Arkansas 3) .
• Auburn’s 589 yards of total offense is an SEC Championship Game record. The previous mark was the Tigers’ 559 yards in 2004.
• Auburn’s average of 8.29 yards per play is an SEC Championship Game record.
• Auburn’s Cam Newton set or tied the following SEC Championship Game records:
o Most TDs responsible for – six (tied, Danny Wuerffel, Florida, 1996)
o Yards per play – 9.7 (42 plays, 408 yards)
• Newton also posted the second most total yards in an SEC Championship Game with 408, trailing only Auburn’s Jason Campbell’s 431 in 2004.
• Auburn’s Darvin Adams set an SEC Championship Game record with 217 receiving yards, all coming in the first half. He tied the second-most TD receptions with two.
• Auburn’s Wes Byrum set an SEC Championship Game record with eight PATs Attempted and Made.
• Auburn’s T’Sharvan Bell became the seventh player in SEC Championship Game history to return an interception for a touchdown.
• South Carolina’s 139 kickoff return yards is the second highest total in SEC Championship Game history.
First Half Notes
• Auburn scored first on a 12-yard pass from Cam Newton to Onterio McCalebb. Entering the game, the team that scored first in the SEC Championship Game had a 10-8 record.
• Auburn led 21-7 at the end of the first quarter. Entering the game, teams leading at the end of the first quarter of the SEC Championship Game have a 9-6 record.
• Auburn leads 28-14 at halftime. Entering the game, teams leading at halftime have gone on to win 14 of the previous 18 SEC Championship Games.
• Auburn’s touchdown with 13:20 remaining in the first quarter is the second fastest score in SEC Championship Game history; the fastest was also by Auburn, in 2004 on a Cole Bennett fumble recovery with 13:24 left in the first quarter.
• Today’s game marks the second time in SEC Championship Game history that both teams scored on their opening drives. The last time it happened was the inaugural game in 1992 between Alabama and Florida. With Auburn’s touchdown on its second drive, it marked the first time a TD was scored on the first three total drives of the game.
• The 28 first quarter combined points are the most in SEC Championship Game history. Auburn’s 21 first quarter points are also a record.
• The 42 combined points is an SEC Championship Game record for first half points. The previous record was 38 between Florida and Alabama in 1996 (UF 24, UA 14).
• At the half, Darvin Adams has already established an SEC Championship Game single-game record for receiving yards with 217 yards on seven catches and two touchdowns, which is tied for second in an SEC Championship Game. The previous record for receiving yards was 171 by Florida’s Reidel Anthony in 1996. Anthony had 11 catches.
• Newton was responsible for four touchdowns at the half, tying for second most in an SEC Championship Game.