CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary Top 20 Players
Who were the top 20 players since CFN started in 1998? No. 7 Cam Newton QB Auburn
CFN Era Top 20 Players: No. 7 Cam Newton, QB Auburn
CollegeFootballNews.com is turning 20 this season, so we’re looking back on the greatest players, games, coaches and more since we first kicked things off back in 1998.
For the Top 20 Players since CFN started, the rules are simple. Who made the biggest impact, who were the most important, and who were ones who generated the most buzz – for good and bad?
This isn’t necessarily a list of the most talented players – that’s what the NFL Draft is for. Who were the defining players of the last 20 years?
Also, nothing before 1998 counts.
Cam Newton, QB Florida (2007-2008), Auburn (2010)
For a one-season career with one team at one level, Cam Newton produced among the greatest years by any player in the history of American team sports.
2010 was a wild and crazy ride in every possible way. It was thrilling, it was amazing, and it was exhausting, as the controversy surrounding Newton sucked up the oxygen of the college football season.
But in the end, nothing could keep Auburn and Newton from pulling off something legendary.
The Florida What-If
In hindsight, Newton was a massive breakdown in the recruiting scouting community.
Even though he was a very big, very athletic, 6-5, 225-pounder out of Atlanta who hovered around a 4.5 in the 40, he was considered an above-average prospect.
Notre Dame got the star recruit of the 2007 class in Jimmy Clausen, and Michigan landed the No. 1A in Ryan Mallett.
Tyrod Taylor was a nice get for Virginia Tech, and Aaron Corp was supposed to be a big thing for USC, but for a Florida program looking toward life after Tim Tebow, John Brantley appeared to be the answer.
However, Urban Meyer also signed Newton, who stepped up right away and took over the backup gig behind Tebow, seeing a little time in a few games.
But Newton was done after playing in just five games, getting suspended after being arrested on burglary charges – he was accused of stealing a computer. The charges were dropped, but that was it – he was out at Florida.
Had Newton stuck around and been the next-QB-up under Meyer, what happens? If 2010 Cam is 2010 Cam in Gainesville instead of Auburn, does Florida go 8-5?
Probably not, but it wouldn’t have been the juggernaut of previous seasons. Remember, this was right after the Urban health-scare meltdown, and as good as Cam was, he probably wouldn’t have been able to lift the team up through a brutal Gator schedule.
Newton went the JUCO route to reboot his career. And then the fun began.
The Recruiting, Part 2
Here’s where this gets interesting.
Newton blossomed from a good prospect into a must-have franchise-maker after taking Blinn College in Texas to the JUCO national title. He showed off next level passing skills, smooth-as-silk running ability, and with his size, the freakish upside to become a difference-maker right away.
Almost everyone wanted him, but Auburn, Oklahoma, and Mississippi State were the final programs in line for his services.
Allegedly – as it would be detailed later in Auburn’s 2010 season – Newton’s dad, Cecil, had claimed during the recruiting process that it would take “more than a scholarship” to land his star son, and as the story took on a life of its own, there were rumors swirling that Cam would’ve gone to Mississippi State, but “a specific payment would have to be made.”
But Cam didn’t go to Mississippi State.
No one was doing backflips when Auburn hired Gene Chizik to be its head coach to start the 2009 season.
Chizik might have been a good defensive coordinator for the Tigers for a few years, but his 5-19 run at Iowa State – including a winless Big 12 season in 2008 – was hardly awe-inspiring.
Even so, Auburn brought him on, and the results right away weren’t bad.
The Tigers went from 5-7 in 2008 to 8-5 in 2009, pushing an eventual national champion Alabama team hard in a 26-21 loss. But even though the team was improving, no one could’ve foreseen what was about to happen.
There was plenty of lip-service being paid to a quarterback battle, but after winning the recruiting fight to get Newton, there was no real doubt who was going to be the No. 1 guy.
With three touchdown passes and 171 rushing yards and two scores in the opener against Arkansas State, Newton got the ball rolling.
Ironically, the Tigers opened up the season with Mississippi State, and Newton came through with two touchdown passes and a scoring run in the tough 17-14 win.
And he just kept on producing.
Auburn’s defense was just okay, but the offense found its groove, with Newton good for two touchdown passes or more in each of his first five games, while he destroyed teams with his legs, tearing off 176 yards and three scores in a win over South Carolina.
The Tigers weren’t blowing out the better teams, but they were managing to get by in the SEC week after week, with Newton being the catalyst.
LSU held down the Auburn passing game, so Cam ran for 217 and two scores to cap off a three-game SEC stretch with 603 rushing yards and nine scores. Now, the season was going from surprising, to something truly special, and Newton was quickly growing into a transcendent talent.
Fourth in the initial BCS standings, Auburn slipped into the top spot in the second installment after Week 9, and stuck around the top two for a few weeks. But the Tigers had to finish the drill.
After running for 151 yards and two scores against Georgia, and coming up with a phenomenal comeback to beat Alabama with three touchdown passes and a fantastic second half, Newton had carried the Tigers into the SEC Championship game.
One 56-17 blasting of South Carolina later – with Newton throwing for 335 yards and four touchdowns, and running for 73 yards and two scores – Auburn was the BCS No. 1 team, off to face Oregon for the BCS Championship in Arizona.
Newton was by far the best player in college football, and Auburn had grown into the best team. But the controversy surrounding Newton and the recruiting allegations took over the late stretch of the season and wouldn’t go away.
Everyone was looking for a smoking gun that would’ve linked any sort of payment from Auburn to the Newtons, with the belief was that something had to happen for Cam to sign on, considering the Mississippi State side of the story kept blowing up, including allegations of a payment schedule.
Newton kept denying any and all allegations and charges and kept pressing on – if he was stressed about the situation, he never played like it.
Cam was suspended for less than a day by the NCAA in late November for Cecil’s involvement with Mississippi State, but that went away almost immediately – he was eligible the next day, and the dream season was still on.
In the end, the NCAA couldn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing from any side at Auburn or with Cam.
Newton won the 2010 Heisman in a blowout, getting 729 first place votes to Andrew Luck of Stanford’s 78, and outscoring him in the overall voting 2,263 to 1,079. All that was left to do was win the national title.
Newton was fine against Oregon. For any other quarterback, throwing for 265 yards and two touchdowns with a pick with 64 rushing yards would be a special day, but his performance was off – he just wasn’t sharp.
But the defense came up with a great day against the high-octane Chip Kelly offense, and Tiger RB Michael Dyer went off, running for 143 yards and setting up the game-winning walk-off field goal.
Again, Cam Newton might have come up with the greatest one-and-done of all-time.
He completed 66% of his passes for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns with seven interceptions and ran for 1,473 yards and two scores. He even caught a touchdown pass.
Newton won every major award, earning the Heisman, the Maxwell, the Davey O’Brien, and was everyone’s All-American.
And he took Auburn to a 14-0 season with a national title.
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credit: Auburn Athletics