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October 13, 2010

Heisman Watch: From JC to trophy?

The awards watch
A weekly look at the top three candidates for some key postseason awards:
Outland (best interior lineman)
Butkus (most outstanding linebacker)
Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)
Thorpe (most outstanding defensive back)
Rimington (most outstanding center)
Biletnikoff (most outstanding wide receiver)
(most outstanding wide receiver) 1. Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
2. Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
3. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
Doak Walker (best running back)
Mackey (top tight end)
Lou Groza (top kicker)
Ray Guy (top punter)

Roger Staubach did it. So did O.J. Simpson and Mike Rozier.

Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton might do it, too.

Newton, who often has been spectacular and never has played poorly this season, appears to have a realistic chance to join Staubach, Simpson and Rozier as Heisman recipients who played football at junior colleges.

Before Staubach starred at Navy, he spent a year at New Mexico Military Institute. Simpson went to City College of San Francisco before attending USC. Rozier went to Coffeyville (Kan.) Junior College for a year before moving on to Nebraska.

Last season, Newton led Blinn College (Texas) to the junior college national championship. This season, he has led Auburn to an undefeated record while passing for 1,138 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushing for 672 yards and nine touchdowns.

He ran for four touchdowns and led a late drive for a winning field goal in last week's 37-34 victory at Kentucky.

"I was just trying to do my part and get a win on the road in the SEC," Newton said after the game. "Whether it was throwing a pass or handing the football off, that's my job -- to be dominant and give it my all every single play."

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Newton has done that.

"This guy is a worker," Chizik said. "He is a competitor. When the game is on the line, he wants the ball in his hands. I couldn't be more proud of the guy the way he works and the way he handles his business. He continues to improve every week."

A major factor is winning the Heisman is performing well against good competition. Newton passed for 158 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over South Carolina, and Newton can enhance his candidacy in the next two weeks with home games against Arkansas and LSU. Alabama looms for the Tigers on Nov. 26. And if the Tigers keep winning, he'll play in the SEC championship game the weekend before Heisman ballots are due.

If the Tigers keep winning, it's a good bet Newton will be playing well.

Oregon RB LaMichael James, Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor and Boise State QB Kellen Moore remain in the thick of the race, though Michigan QB Denard Robinson's candidacy took a major blow when he threw three interceptions in last week's loss to Michigan State.

Nebraska redshirt freshman quarterback Taylor Martinez is an emerging candidate after rushing for 241 yards and four touchdowns. Martinez can give his candidacy a significant boost with a strong performance against Texas on Saturday.

Here are this week's top five:

1. RB LaMichael James, Oregon: He posted his fourth 100-yard outing in five games with 136 yards and two touchdowns against Washington State. He also scored on an 84-yard catch-and-run. Overall, he has rushed for 848 yards and nine touchdowns.

2. QB Cameron Newton, Auburn: One of the nation's premier dual-threat quarterbacks, Newton is the primary reason the Tigers remain unbeaten. He passed for 210 yards and rushed for 198 and four touchdowns in a 37-34 victory over Kentucky. Newton is on pace to pass for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000. He's also accounted for 21 touchdowns (12 passing, nine rushing).

3. QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State: Pryor always has been known as a great athlete, but he's developed into an accomplished passer, too. He's thrown for more than 200 yards in five games this season, including a career-best 334 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout win over Indiana on Saturday. Pryor has thrown 15 touchdown passes. He can run when needed, too. He has exceeded 100 rushing yards three times this season.

4. QB Kellen Moore, Boise State: Moore has thrown three touchdown passes in four of the Broncos' five games and had two in the other. Yet, he's played very little in the second half of the past two games because they have been blowouts. He has completed better than 70 percent of his attempts in each of the past three games and has thrown just one interception this season.

5. QB Denard Robinson, Michigan: Perhaps the most explosive player in the nation, Robinson continues to lead the country in rushing yards with 991. Against Michigan State's defense, the best he has faced this season, he put up respectable numbers with 84 rushing yards and 215 passing yards. But he also threw three interceptions, with two coming inside the red zone.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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