There was no way to know.
Standing on the Jordan-Hare playing surface, just minutes before South Carolina's first game with Auburn back on Sept. 25, the Gamecocks couldn't have known what was about to come at them. After all, even Auburn didn't know what it had in Cam Newton.
South Carolina's coaches saw a 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback who wanted to throw first and run second. The new JaMarcus Russell, they called him. That' s what film against Arkansas State, Mississippi State and Clemson had shown them.
But, boy, they were mistaken.
"The first time we played them, they did a good job and wore us out," Gamecocks defensive assistant Shane Beamer said Monday. "We probably didn't have as much respect for him as a runner as we did a passer." Newton rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns, Auburn had 334 yards on the ground and, most important, the Tigers rallied for a 35-27 victory.
Of course, Newton the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman next week has gone on to do that virtually against everyone on the schedule.
But South Carolina gets something that no other team will against Newton: a second chance.
The No. 18 Gamecocks (9-3) and No. 2 Tigers (12-0) will meet Saturday in the SEC championship game in Atlanta.
South Carolina's rush defense is currently fifth in the country (first in the SEC), having given up 1,118 rushing yards (93.2 yards a game) in 12 games.
Without Auburn's 334 rush yards, that means the Gamecocks gave up only 71.3 rushing yards a game in the season's other 11 games.
In other words, roughly 30 percent of USC's rushing yards allowed came in that one game.
And it's because Newton, quite literally, caught the Gamecocks flatfooted.
"I didn't think he was that fast," South Carolina safety Akeem Auguste.
The Gamecocks figured that part out early the game. Newton rushed around the right side for a 54-yard touchdown, running away from even South Carolina's fastest defensive backs.
"That was an eye-opening run when you know you're playing against such a great defense with tons of speed," Tigers coach Gene Chizik said earlier in the week. Through 12 games, Newton has thrown for 2,254 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Newton has run for another 1,336 yards and 18 touchdowns.
He's the SEC's leading rusher and top-rated passer. Even when Alabama held Newton to 39 rushing yards last week, he was able to make enough plays with his arm to lead the Tigers back from a 24-0 deficit in Tuscaloosa.
Newton will resemble a different player than he did even in the first meeting. Remember that Newton, talented as he is, is still a first-year player in Gus Malzahn's system after transferring from a Texas junior college. He's still learning, improved in various ways from September to December.
"I think Cam has totally gotten better as a quarterback and learning the system," Gamecocks secondary coach Lorenzo Ward said. "He's getting better at throwing the football. He can throw it, beat you running. He's a complete quarterback right now. He's definitely different than he was than the first time."
Even after the swell of attention and turmoil concerning his father, Cecil, soliciting payment for Cam to play at Mississippi State, Cam has continued to excel. He hasn't flinched, even as his eligibility was thrown up in the air.
The NCAA ruled Wednesday that Newton was eligible until further notice.
"He's a sharp young man that has the ability to focus on helping his team win the game," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said, adding that Newton will get his Heisman vote as a former winner.
Naturally, the question is this: How can South Carolina stop or at least slow Newton?
In the first game, Newton's ability to sell the fake, often keeping, killed the Gamecocks. Will they be more diligent in watching the ball and being quicker to it once Newton makes a decision whether to keep or give on the option?
"It's our defensive scheme, our assignments," Auguste said. "A lot of people blew their assignments. Our coaches put us in the right positions. We've got to make plays. It's that simple."