When the season got underway, Auburn was not getting much attention. Unlike Florida in 2007, there weren't a host of accomplishments from the previous season that led anyone to believe Auburn would be a title contender. Auburn began the season as the No. 23 team in the nation, according to the coaches' poll.
Auburn easily rolled over Arkansas State en route to a 52-26 victory in week one, and Cam Newton earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance.
In week two, Auburn got an early start to the SEC season, traveling to Mississippi State to take on the unranked Bulldogs. At this point in the season, no one yet had any idea how good Auburn could be, or how good Mississippi State could be. The two teams battled to the finish, and Auburn narrowly escaped with a 17-14 win.
However, it was Auburn's defense in that game that garnered the most attention. Nick Farley was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week, and the seventeen points put up by the Newton-led offense would be a season low.
Auburn's steady, if unimpressive, performance had earned them the No. 16 spot in the nation going into the September 18 game against Clemson. That game would become the closest game for Auburn all season long. The two groups of Tigers battled relentlessly throughout the game, and extra time would eventually be needed to determine a winner.
ESPN's College GameDay was visiting Auburn this week, and the national television audience was certainly treated to an instant classic. Clemson flew out to a 17-0 lead, and it looked as if Auburn was completely overmatched. Auburn managed to score just three points in the first half, and began the third quarter facing a 14-point deficit. That didn't seem to bother Newton, as he led the Tigers to three third quarter touchdowns, taking a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter.
Clemson put the only fourth quarter points on the board, tying the game and sending it to overtime. Auburn was only able to manage a field goal on their first overtime possession, but the defense stiffened, and it looked as if Clemson would have to be content to kick a field goal to tie the game. Although the kick was good, a penalty on Clemson took the points off the board, moved the kick back five yards, and forced a second try. This time, the kick was no good, and Auburn escaped with a 27-24 overtime victory.
In another come-from-behind victory, Auburn dispatched then-No. 15 South Carolina, 35-27, by scoring 14 fourth quarter points. Cam Newton had five total touchdown (two passing, three rushing), and had 334 yards of total offense.
Not only did the win propel Auburn into the top ten, it was the first time that most of the nation had heard Cam Newton and Heisman Trophy in the same sentence.
After an easy win against Louisiana-Monroe, Auburn jumped to No. 8 heading into their road game at Kentucky. The Tigers' attack was again led by Newton, who not only guided his team to another narrow victory, but also accounted for four first-half touchdowns. Newton finished the day with 408 yards of total offense—198 rushing yards and 210 passing. Newton was no longer a passing mention when it came to the Heisman. He was now a front-runner.
The much-anticipated showdown with Arkansas, then the No. 12 team in the nation, proved to be an offensive shoot-out from two of the SEC's best quarterbacks. Cam Newton, a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy by this point, was facing an Arkansas team led by the Preseason All-SEC Quarterback, Ryan Mallett.
Touchdown after touchdown poured onto the scoreboard, in what would become the highest-scoring non-overtime conference game in SEC history. The two teams combined for 1,036 yards of offense and 108 points.
Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Mallett left the game before halftime with a concussion, and Newton was able to guide the Tigers to a 65-43 victory.
There was no rest for Auburn, as No. 6 LSU was next on No. 4 Auburn's schedule. Again, Cam Newton led the way for the Tigers, with 217 rushing yards and two touchdowns, which broke the SEC single-game rushing mark for a quarterback—a record that had stood since 1963. Auburn emerged with a 24-17 win, and Newton now looked all but unbeatable in the race for the Heisman Trophy.
After dispatching a sagging Ole Miss team and strolling past FCS Chattanooga and SEC-East foe Georgia, the regular-season finale loomed—the Iron Bowl. That game was all that stood between Auburn and a guaranteed trip to the SEC Championship Game, and a likely trip to the BCS Championship. Auburn was No. 2 in the nation, and they were facing their perennial cross-state rival in one of the nation's best grudge matches.
Alabama didn't blink at Auburn's lofty ranking, and jumped out to a shocking 24-0 second-quarter lead. It looked nearly certain that Auburn's perfect season was coming to an abrupt end.
Cam Newton was having none of that. Despite Alabama's first-half explosion of points, the Auburn defense did its job by holding the Crimson Tide to just three second-half points, allowing Newton and company to do their thing. On just the second play of the second half, Newton found Terrell Zachery for a 70-yard touchdown. With less than a minute gone in the third quarter, Auburn now trailed by just ten points. Before the quarter was out, Auburn had narrowed the Tide's lead to just six points, trailing 27-21 heading into the final quarter.
Less than four minutes into the final quarter, Auburn took the lead when Newton found Philip Lutzenkirchen in the end zone. The PAT gave Auburn a 28-27 lead, which also became the final score. Never in the history of Auburn football had the Tigers overcome a 24-point deficit to win a game. Never in the history of Alabama football had the Crimson Tide surrendered a 24-point lead to lose a game. Cam Newton and his fellow Tigers changed both of those statements in the 2010 Iron Bowl.
After a lopsided victory over South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Championship Game, Auburn had stamped their ticket to the 2011 BCS Championship Game.
In one of the most closely contested championship games, Oregon and Auburn traded scores all the way through the game. It wasn't until the final play of the game that a winner could be determined. True to form, Newton and the Tigers overcame an early deficit to capture a close, hard-fought victory. In this case, the 22-19 win over Oregon also gave Auburn their first BCS Championship in school history.