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December 1, 2010

Heisman Watch: All but locked up

The awards watch
A weekly look at the top three candidates for some key postseason awards. An asterisk denotes that the three finalists for the award already have been chosen:
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)*
Doak Walker (best running back)*
Mackey (top tight end)*
Lou Groza (top kicker)*
Ray Guy (top punter)*

Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton seems a lock to win the Heisman, but one doesn't have to go back that far for a reminder that things aren't always want they seem.

This time a year ago, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy seemed to have the trophy all but wrapped up. That was before he threw three interceptions and was sacked nine times against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game.

Still, unless Newton struggles through a monumental debacle against South Carolina in the SEC championship game, he figures to win in a landslide.

Gaudy statistics draw attention, but the Heisman typically is won (or lost) in big games. Records are nice, but they don't matter as much when set against overmatched competition. What really matters is how a player fares against ranked opponents and archrivals.

No one has been better in big games than Newton.

Auburn has faced five opponents currently in the BCS standings -- No. 7 Arkansas, No. 10 LSU, No. 16 Alabama, No. 19 South Carolina and No. 22 Mississippi State. Newton rushed for 176 yards and three TDs against South Carolina, 188 yards and three TDs against Arkansas and 217 yards and two scores against LSU. He passed for 216 yards and three touchdowns against Alabama. He had 206 total yards, passed for two touchdowns and also caught a pass against Mississippi State.

Newton hasn't had a bad game and frequently has been spectacular; he has been responsible for at least two touchdowns in every game and has had at least four in seven games. He'll win the Heisman unless he has an uncharacteristic meltdown in the rematch against South Carolina.

Here's a look at this week's top five:

1. QB Cameron Newton, Auburn: Barring a complete collapse against South Carolina in the SEC championship game or an NCAA ruling that he's ineligible, Newton will be Auburn's third Heisman recipient and the fourth junior college transfer to win it, joining Roger Staubach, O.J. Simpson and Mike Rozier. Newton had a brilliant game against Alabama, throwing three touchdown passes to rally the Tigers from a 24-point deficit to a 28-27 victory.

2. QB Andrew Luck, Stanford: He closed out the Cardinal's regular season with four touchdown passes in a 38-0 victory over Oregon State. Luck set a single-season school record with 28 touchdown passes, breaking the record held by John Elway and Steve Stenstrom. Luck passed for 3,051 yards while completing better than 70 percent of his attempts; he has thrown just seven interceptions.

3. QB Kellen Moore, Boise State: He's thrown at least two touchdown passes in every game this season while accumulating 3,269 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, with only five interceptions. His 54-yard completion to Titus Young in Friday's loss to Nevada with less than 10 seconds left in regulation was an incredible play that will be overlooked because the potential winning field goal was missed.

4. RB LaMichael James, Oregon: The nation's leading rusher (154.8 yards per game), James had 126 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 48-29 victory over Arizona. He has 1,548 yards and 19 touchdowns this season and has gained 100 yards in eight of the 10 games in which he has played. He's not been held to fewer than 91 rushing yards.

5. WR Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Even playing on a tender ankle, Blackmon managed eight catches for 105 yards in last week's 47-41 loss to Oklahoma. Blackmon leads the nation at 151.4 receiving yards per game. He's had at least five catches, 105 yards and a touchdown in each of the 11 games in which he has played.

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

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