Auburn's newly minted starting quarterback Nick Marshall made his first appearance in front of the media since winning the job Sunday night and addressed the similarities between he and former Tigers quarterback and 2010 Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton for the first of what will be numerous times.
Marshall—a former Georgia defensive back—spent the last season at Garden City (Kan.) Community College after being dismissed from the Bulldogs in February 2012. Newton shared a similar path, leaving the Florida Gators following an off-the-field incident for one season at Blinn College in Texas before joining the Auburn program as a junior in 2010.
From the journey to the Plains, to the dual-threat capabilities to Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, no huddle system, the comparisons to Newton are unavoidable.
Marshall isn't interested in those lofty expectations.
"I really can't compare myself to him," Marshall said. "I just have to be myself."
But Malzahn can and did quite often Sunday night.
"All of the other quarterbacks I've had went through spring," Malzahn said. "Cam had a chance to go through spring. The difference is that we never went live (in practice) with Cam. If you watched Cam two-and-a-half weeks into spring practice, you wouldn't know that he was going to be the quarterback. Everything wasn't perfect."
Marshall threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns last season at Garden City and added 1,095 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns.
While statistically, Marshall and Newton appear to be similar quarterbacks, the 6'1", 210-pound Marshall is a much more slippery than Newton. His elusiveness in the pocket and ability to extend plays coupled with a cannon that can get the ball 70 yards downfield on a dime will make him a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. If we're comparing him to recent dual-threat studs, he's more like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel than he is Newton.
He doesn't have to be Newton though.
Malzahn's offense is predicated on a punishing, downhill rushing attack. With 1,000-yard rusher Tre Mason, spring game MVP Cameron Artis-Payne and speedster Corey Grant in house, the Tigers are fine in that department.
All Marshall needs to do is take care of the football, which was a challenge for him in his first season back at quarterback with the Broncbusters in 2012. He tossed 20 interceptions and lost five fumbles in an offense that was switched to the spread shortly before the season started.
His ability to make smart decisions in camp at Auburn is a big reason why he won the job in three short weeks.
"It's been good, because we have coaches who everyday, ream it into our heads about ball security," Marshall said. "It stuck to me now, so I'm not going to worry about turnovers."
The Newton comparisons will linger all season, especially if Marshall does turn heads early in the season in the way Newton did in 2010.
But he isn't Newton.
Newton only tossed five picks in his one season at Blinn in 2009 and was a polished passer the moment he stepped foot on campus. While Marshall was a little rough around the edges, it was his potential that won him the job.
"The day that we went live, they were flying around him, and I was right back there with him and he seemed like it was 7-on-7 mode," Malzahn said.
That doesn't mean that Marshall cannot get to Newton's level eventually. His arm strength is comparable right now, and while Marshall is more likely to run around a defender than over one, his ability to make things happen on the ground has the coaches excited about the future.
"We're always going to play to our quarterback's strengths, but he's very unique," Malzahn said. "He's a phenomenal athlete. One of the better athletes I've probably gotten a chance to coach at the quarterback position."
There may be some speed bumps along the way, but the marriage between Malzahn and Marshall will make Auburn's offense can't-miss television if—for no other reason—its high-risk, high-reward nature.
If and when it clicks, look out.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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