Fairley follows Newton into NFL draft

Football is the ultimate team game. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true.

But upon hearing Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley make it official Friday and announce at his high school in Mobile, Ala., that he was turning pro, I was reminded how much difference two players can make in this game.

That’s especially true when one of those players just happens to be the Heisman Trophy quarterback and the other the Lombardi Award winner and best interior defensive lineman in college football.

No offense to Gene Chizik, the Auburn coaching staff, or any of the other players on the Tigers’ national championship team, for that matter.

But without Cam Newton and Fairley, that’s a 9-3 team … at best.

So, yes, two players do make a difference in football, particularly when they play the two positions that are the hardest to fill -- quarterback and defensive tackle.

This is not to suggest, either, that Auburn is going to drop off the map in the SEC simply because Newton and Fairley are headed to the NFL. This staff has already proven that it can recruit, and there’s no reason to believe that more great players aren’t on the way.

Still, hitting it just right with two junior college players of Newton and Fairley's caliber doesn’t happen everyday. In fact, it hardly ever happens.

Newton is possibly the best one-and-done starter in FBS history. He accounted for an astonishing 51 touchdowns this season.

Fairley will go down as one of the most improved players, at least in recent history. He started in just two games last season and had 3.5 tackles for loss after transferring in from Copiah-Lincoln Community College. This season, he led the SEC with 24 tackles for loss and was virtually unblockable most of the season.

Together, they made a good Auburn team a national championship team, and the crazy thing about it, Chizik wasn’t sure what he had with either player this time a year ago.