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Brandt: Auburn's Nick Marshall could repeat Cam Newton's feat

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Jay Sailors / Associated Press
QB Nick Marshall has helped turn Auburn's program around after it went 3-9 last season.

After witnessing what I believe was the greatest weekend ever in college football, I couldn't help but go back to that term "competitive balance" when thinking about the incredible games that were played over the last few days.

Auburn has put itself into the discussion for the national championship game one season after it finished 3-9. Saturday, the Tigers beat an Alabama team that dominated them 49-0 in the last game of the 2012 regular season, a season that also saw them lose 38-0 to Georgia, 63-21 to Texas A&M, and 41-20 to Ole Miss.

The competitive balance in college football is so great that you could bring in one new player, and it could have a big impact on your team's fortunes. We saw this happen to Auburn in 2010, when Cam Newton came over from junior college and led the Tigers to an undefeated record and the national championship a season after Auburn had finished 8-5.

This year, I believe the player who has turned things around for Auburn is Nick Marshall, a quarterback who actually began his college career as a cornerback at Georgia in 2011 before he was kicked off the team for stealing money from teammates. Marshall moved on to Garden City Community College in 2012 and became the No. 4 ranked junior college quarterback in the nation.

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He has played a major role in Auburn's rise this season, passing for 1,530 yards and nine touchdowns but doing most of his damage with his legs, with 823 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Chris Davis will make all the highlights for his return of the missed field goal against Alabama on Saturday, but it was Marshall who led Auburn on a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter, ending it with a 39-yard touchdown pass. It's the second game in a row that Marshall has basically won the game for Auburn on a last-minute pass against two very good SEC teams; two weeks ago he beat Georgia on an incredible 73-yard TD pass with 25 seconds left.

We've also seen a similar dramatic turnaround this season with Duke. This was a team that was picked to finish last in the ACC Coastal division, but won its 10th game Saturday against North Carolina in another of the weekend's exciting finishes. Again, this is a good example of the competitive balance in the college game. Duke is not a team with a very good football history, and it was 6-7 last season, losing several games in blowouts. But two players have emerged for the team this season in quarterback Anthony Boone and wide receiver Jamison Crowder. They have helped complete a major turnaround for this program that head coach David Cutcliffe put in motion when he arrived six seasons ago, and now you have a 10-win team that could win the ACC.

These days a team could go from a losing record to a winning record with just a few new additions, because teams already have so many good players and there's such good competitive balance.

Yet another example -- two teams that did not go to a bowl game last year, Missouri and Auburn, will play for the SEC championship next week. Those two teams last year won two conference games between them.

The playoff system begins in college football next season, and it will involve four teams, but I think that when you see games like we saw this weekend -- Auburn-Alabama, Ohio State-Michigan, etc. -- there's no reason why we shouldn't move that number up to eight playoff games. It used to be that there were just one or two good teams in a season. Nowadays there are enough good teams out there that they could get eight with no problem at all. Missouri is a good team, South Carolina is good, Alabama is very good. There are a bunch of very good teams, certainly more than four who are deserving of a spot in the playoffs.

Follow Gil Brandt on Twitter @Gil_Brandt.

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