For the third straight year, Cam Newton's team is playing for a national title. And while this time around is a little different, Auburn's Heisman Trophy winner hopes the end result is exactly the same.
Two years ago, Newton watched Tim Tebow's Superman effort - 231 passing yards, two TDs and two INTs, with 109 rushing yards - lead Florida to a 24–14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami.
Although Newton was sitting out with an ankle injury (for which he was ultimately granted a medical redshirt) and in the process of transferring (due to legal issues and playing time concerns behind Tebow), he was most certainly a member of the Gators' 2008 national title team.
"Cam had a great experience at Florida," said Cam's father, Cecil, following the transfer. "We just feel Cam has all the tools to play at a major college level. He's going to start this new chapter of his life."
Newton turned his attention to junior college powerhouse Blinn (Texas) College, a team coached by Brad Franchione, the son of former TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione.
"They had a plan in place and when Tebow announced he was staying, (Newton) said he was coming here," Franchione told VYPE Magazine. "He wanted to get to a place where he could become a better passer. He felt he could run the ball in the SEC and he's proven that."
In his only season at Blinn, Newton led the Buccaneers to an 11–1 record, while passing for 2,833 yards, 22 TDs and five INTs, and scrambling for 655 rushing yards and 16 TDs.
Newton capped his 2009 season with a 31–26 win over No. 1-ranked Fort Smith (Kan.) CC in the NJCAA National Championship Game. The dangerous dual-threat signal-caller passed for 111 yards and one INT, and rushed for 110 yards and one TD en route to Blinn's fourth NJCAA national title.
"He's just so gifted and we were blessed to have him in our program," said Franchione. "He has that ‘it' quality. When he enters a room, you know it."
The 6'6", 250-pound junior from College Park, Ga., has certainly made his presence known since arriving at Auburn - leading the Tigers to a perfect 13–0 record, an SEC title and a spot in the BCS National Championship Game against Oregon.
Newton has completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 2,589 yards, 28 TDs and six INTs, while tucking the ball to run for 1,409 yards and 20 TDs on the ground, and hauling in two catches for 42 yards and another score through the air.
Although Newton's obvious physical gifts stand out, his intangible qualities have been the difference this season. Newton has kept a Magic Johnson-like smile on his face despite constant, unparalleled media scrutiny and fan speculation surrounding his recruitment, his father and a potential play-for-pay scenario.
Through it all, Newton has held his head high and played with the type of seemingly-invincible swagger necessary to lead Auburn back from a 24–0 deficit against Alabama and pull off a 28–27 win on the road at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Iron Bowl.
"He's a great leader. He's got the ability, once he gets in the huddle, that all eyes are on him, and whatever he says, they're going to do. They really believe in him," said Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, during a BCS title game press conference.
"His leadership is definitely a big reason we're here."
The Tigers will rely on Newton's poise under pressure as well as the championship game experience he gained last year at Blinn. Granted, the lights will be brighter and the audience will be larger when Auburn takes on Oregon. But Newton has the same goal this year as he did last season - win a national championship.
"(The NJCAA title game) was a great atmosphere to be in. That's something I will take to my grave, just being around something that we worked very hard for. And, you know, this season kind of resembles that," said Newton, who has a combined 24–1 record as a starter at Blinn and Auburn.
These two quarterbacks were both BCS bowl winners, conference champions and first round NFL selections. Each quarterbacked one of the best teams in their respecitve school's history.
Harrington was a Heisman Finalist and conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2001 when he led the 11-1 Pac-10 champion Ducks to a 38-16 Fiesta Bowl win over then-No. 3 Colorado.
Campbell's 2004 undefeated season is well documented. The SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and title game MVP, led the Auburn Tigers to a 13-0 record and a 16-13 Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
Here are some highlights from the conversation:
Campbell wasted no time in starting the good-natured trash talk:
"You can play a pre-mini national championship game of Auburn going down the field and scoring over and over again. And not get a chance to see the Duck do too many push-ups."
"...there is no trash talking because we had a great discussion and I convinced Jason that Oregon is going to win. So Jason actually thinks Oregon is going to win so there is nothing trash talk about."
When Harrington was asked about the long layoff between the title game and the end of the regular season:
"I loved it. I thought it was great. You go through a 12-game season...and you're pretty beat up. And you have entire month to think about this one game. I love the bowl preperation giving everyone a chance to be mentally and physically fresh."
To Campbell, can you gameplan for Cam Newton?
"I don't think you can," responded the Auburn quarterback.
And of course, a true Tiger never misses a chance to take a shot at Alabama:
"I just thought it was great the way they came back against Alabama. To come back against a Nick Saban team in Tuscaloosa just shows a lot of resiliency of that team and what type of leader Cam is."
Despite his allegiance to Auburn, Campbell recognizes just how tough Monday night will be:
"I am looking forward to the game. It's going to be exciting. You look at Oregon, they are a well-coached team and they are a fast offense"
And his key to the game:
"Which defense can stay in tip-top shape, because it's hard to simulate the other team's speed as an offense in practice. And special teams. When you watch the bowl games, a lot of games have been won and lost on special teams."
Harrington speaks to the speed of the Oregon offense:
"Obviously, they have got alot of talent at the skill positions and when you add to that how fast they play — they were getting plays off every 13 to 15 seconds. And that is not something that takes it toll in the first and second quarters, but so oftern during the season by the end of the third quarter you'd see the opposing linemen with their hands on their hips, bent over trying to get some air. Plays that start at 2, 3 and 4-yard gains become 5, 6, and 7-yard gains in the third quarter and by the fourth quarter those are the big explosive plays that win a football game."
I couldn't miss the chance to ask Campbell about his 2004 team. Did he think that his unbeaten team could beat this unbeaten Auburn squad? (In fact, he called for a playoff!)
"That's a funny question, beacuse you know I am going to be a little biased. In '04, our defense was highly ranked just as well as our offense. We were pretty evenly matched on both sides of the ball. Both of us wished we had that opportunity to play for the national title but because of the way the system is, both of us were denied."
For predictions, however, you have to listen to the interview...