- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 22, 2010

AUBURN, ALA. (AP) - Cam Newton lifted Auburn from the back of the Top 25 to No. 1 in the nation.

The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback led the Tigers into the national title game against No. 2 Oregon with a mix of flair and poise and enough highlight reel plays to widely split the vote among a handful of coaches and teammates asked for their favorite.

Newton has already raked in the Heisman Trophy and Davey O’Brien and Maxwell awards for his spectacular season. He added AP Player of the Year to his collection on Wednesday.

An NCAA investigation into Newton’s recruitment, which threw his eligibility into doubt during November, had no effect on how he played down the stretch _ or the voting for the AP award. It was about as lopsided as the Heisman vote.

Newton received 51 votes from the 60-member AP football poll panel. Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore received three, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck got two and four ballots went unreturned.

In less than a year, Newton has gone from the obscurity of junior college to helping transform a team that went 8-5 last season and started this one ranked No. 22 to a perfect Southeastern Conference championship.

It wasn’t all about the big plays, though. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said he was more impressed by Newton’s leadership in repeatedly bringing the team from behind, including a 24-0 deficit at Alabama.

“The sign of a special quarterback is one that has the abilities to make his teammates better and make his teammates believe in things that maybe they wouldn’t believe without him,” Malzahn said. “We’ve faced some major adversity earlier in the year when we didn’t know each other that well.

“We were down to Clemson 17-0 at home and it was ugly as all get out. But he didn’t change then. He’s a rock, as far as all that’s concerned. Doesn’t panic.”

It doesn’t hurt that Newton’s 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds with deceptive speed, nifty open-field moves, power and a nice arm. He broke the single-season SEC rushing record for a quarterback in the eighth game, a 28-carry, 217-yard effort against LSU. Malzahn also says Newton has proven he’s “not a good thrower, he’s an excellent thrower.”

As the season wore on, Newton’s skills bloomed and not even a scandal could slow him.

He deftly played through an NCAA investigation into a pay-for-play recruiting attempt involving his father, Cecil, at Mississippi State. The NCAA said Cecil Newton sought payment from the Bulldogs, but there was no evidence that his son or Auburn knew about it.

The week before the SEC title game, the NCAA said Newton could play and he accounted for six touchdowns in a 56-17 victory against South Carolina. That locked up a spot in the BCS title game on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Ariz.

It’s the second straight season Newton has led his team to the national championship game. He guided Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, to the JUCO championship last year _ only few noticed.

“We probably have more people in this room here alone than the whole junior college national championship game,” Newton said recently.

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