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Cam Newton Will Win The Heisman Trophy, But Is He Having The Best College Football Season Ever?

Cam Newton Is Better Than Tim Tebow, And May Be The Best Ever. In recent weeks, I've compared Cam Newton to Michael Vick and compared Cam Newton to his 2010 Heisman Trophy competition, but both of those seem outdated and inadequate at this point. Newton will win the 2010 Heisman Trophy, despite some voters' stodgy refusal to reward him, citing "integrity", and it won't be a close race. But is Newton having the single greatest season in college football history?

Let's compare Newton to the best seasons in memory, and keep in mind that Newton's still got a game to go. (You know what most of these stats are, but "yards per play" is yards per pass/run for quarterbacks.)

Cam Newton, Auburn, 2010

  • 2,589 passing yards (10.5 yards per attempt), 28 touchdowns, six interceptions
  • 1,409 rushing yards (5.8 yards per carry), 20 touchdowns
  • 199.2 passing yards per game, 108.4 rushing yards per game, 3.77 touchdowns accounted for per game
  • 3,998 yards of total offense, 307.5 yards of total offense per game, 61.8% of team's total offense
  • 8.2 yards per play
  • Best game: 17-for-28 for 335 passing yards and four touchdowns, 14 carries for 73 yards and two touchdowns in SEC Championship Game against South Carolina
  • 13-0 team record, SEC Championship, BCS National Championship Game berth

Tim Tebow, Florida, 2007

  • 3,286 passing yards (9.4 yards per attempt), 32 touchdowns, six interceptions
  • 895 rushing yards (4.3 yards per carry), 23 touchdowns
  • 252.8 passing yards per game, 68.9 rushing yards per game, 4.23 touchdowns accounted for per game
  • 4,181 yards of total offense, 321.6 yards of total offense per game, 70.5% of team's total offense
  • 7.5 yards per play
  • Best game: 22-for-32 for 304 passing yards and two touchdowns, 26 carries for 120 yards and five touchdowns at South Carolina
  • 8-5 team record, Capital One Bowl loss

Reggie Bush, USC, 2005

  • 1,740 rushing yards (8.7 yards per attempt), 16 touchdowns
  • 478 receiving yards (12.9 yards per reception), two touchdowns
  • 672 return yards
  • 133.8 rushing yards per game, 36.8 rushing yards per game, 1.46 touchdowns accounted for per game
  • 2,218 yards of total offense, 170.6 yards of total offense per game, 29.4% of team's total offense
  • 9.4 yards per play
  • Best game: 23 carries for 294 yards (including this run) and three catches for 68 yards against Fresno State
  • 12-1 team record, Pac-10 championship, BCS National Championship Game loss

Ricky Williams, Texas, 1998

  • 2,124 rushing yards (5.9 yards per attempt), 27 touchdowns
  • 262 receiving yards (10.9 yards per reception), one touchdown
  • 177 rushing yards per game, 21.8 rushing yards per game, 2.33 touchdowns accounted for per game
  • 2,386 yards of total offense, 198.3 yards of total offense per game, 47.0% of team's total offense
  • 6.2 yards per play
  • Best game: 350 yards and five touchdowns against Iowa State
  • 9-3 team record, Cotton Bowl win

Barry Sanders, Oklahoma State, 1989

  • 2,628 rushing yards (7.6 yards per attempt), 37 touchdowns
  • One punt return touchdown, one kick return touchdown
  • 238.9 rushing yards per game, 3.54 touchdowns accounted for per game
  • 3,249 total yards
  • Best game: 222 yards and five touchdowns in three quarters in a Holiday Bowl victory over Wyoming
  • 10-2 team record, Holiday Bowl win

The only player in that list that Newton seems to decisively best is Williams, whose 2,000-yard season was a testament to durability. Tebow and Sanders both hold edges in touchdowns per game and percentage of total offense — I can't find Oklahoma State stats from 1988, but considering that the Cowboys' quarterback was Mike Gundy, I think it's safe to say Sanders' share of the yardage was massive — and Bush blows everyone away on a per-play basis. Newton's also had as many games to this point as Tebow and Bush had all year, and has more than either Williams or Sanders did already. (Steve McNair's record-breaking year at Alcorn State is also a great one, and better than Newton's on paper, but Auburn's 2010 schedule was slightly more rugged.)

But Newton's team is the only undefeated one in the bunch, and it thumped the best division in college football to get that mark. Newton's gotten a lot less help on offense than Tebow (Percy Harvin) and Bush (Matt Leinart, LenDale White, an NFL-caliber line) did. And delving into more in-depth stats just confirms Newton's statistical greatness.

His excellence on opening drives — he hasn't missed on a pass on an opening drive all season — is absurd. So is this composite fourth quarter line: 22-of-29 for 212 yards and seven touchdowns passing, 61 carries for 267 yards. Auburn hasn't had to throw much late in games — another statistical pitfall of being on a great team, and a luxury 2007 Florida's porous defense rarely afforded Tebow — but Newton's got a jaw-dropping 216.92 fourth quarter passer rating, almost 30 points higher than his record-setting 188.15 rating for the season.

So Newton's profile can be properly judged as such: more efficient through the air than Colt Brennan, more explosive as a running quarterback than Tim Tebow (Newton leads the nation in runs of 10 or more yards and runs of 20 or more yards), and as or more valuable to a better team than Bush, Williams, or Sanders, Cam Newton was the central figure in the greatest comeback of the season, and the magician that conjured the most breathtaking play of the year:

And he could still win a BCS National Championship.

Cam Newton should receive virtually every Heisman voter's first place vote — a few votes for Andrew Luck based on a fantastic and unsung season would make sense, too — and win the 2010 Heisman Trophy by the largest margin in history. He won't, it seems, thanks to grandstanding and hollow moralizing by people who are casting self-serving protest votes that do nothing to diminish what Newton has done and much to diminish those who would anoint themselves arbiters of what is and is not ethical.

But whether or not he gets that championship and those votes, Cam Newton's 2010 campaign gets my support as the single greatest season in college football history.

West Virginia: Old Reliable. I rag on the Big East in general quite a bit, and Connecticut edging a fumble-prone West Virgina squad to swing the Big East championship to the Huskies didn't help in that matter. But the Mountaineers deserve some sort of award for defensive consistency. Here's the sequence of points the defense has allowed this year: 0, 21, 17, 20, 6, 19, 16 (overtime), 10, 10, 10, 14.

Is that as exciting as TCU's defense, which has two shutouts and five outings allowing single-digit points? Not quite. But it might be more impressive, for its ability to keep the Mountaineers in games that the anemic Mountaineers offense was unable to win in the early going and for its continued resistance as that offense jelled late in the season. And defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's crew gets points for minimizing its opponents' best shots at points, too: the Mountaineers have allowed the fewest touchdowns in the nation this year, and have allowed just 30 percent of opponents' red zone visits to go for six.

Colin Kaepernick, Unsung Marvel. In the year of Cam Newton, it's hard to remember that Nevada's lanky quarterback, thanks to his own gifts and the brutally effective pistol offense, is the most statistically accomplished quarterback in the country. But this is Kaepernick's career: 9,906 passing yards and 81 touchdowns and 4,090 rushing yards and 69 touchdowns. His 150 touchdowns ties Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour for the most by an FBS player; his three consecutive seasons of over 2,000 yards passing and over 1,000 yards rushing is unprecedented in NCAA history.

Kaepernick may never have the name recognition of mid-major brethren like Kellen Moore or Andy Dalton, and may not have an NFL career because of his gangly frame and suspect passing — though his accuracy has improved significantly in his senior year — but he's been the main source of ammo for Nevada's pistol for almost four full years. That's enough to make him a legend in some circles.

Alex Zendejas' Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Sure, Boise State's Kyle Brotzman was the more visibly dejected kicker this year. But Arizona's Alex Zendejas had it worse: he had two extra points blocked in Arizona's loss to rival Arizona State last weekend.

And the final score of that game? Arizona State 30, Arizona 29.

The Still Sponsor-Free Conference USA Shootout Game of the Week. Central Florida 17, SMU 7. Some Conference USA Championship Game this was: the teams never combined to score more than once in a quarter. For comparison, East Carolina and Tulsa each outscored both of these teams in the fourth quarter of their Week 1 thriller alone.

The Also Sponsor-Free MAC Foot-Shooting of the Week. Miami of Ohio 26, Northern Illinois 21. Northern Illinois came into the MAC Championship Game on a nine-game winning streak, having beaten its last three opponents 195-54 — and lost to a RedHawks squad that is thoroughly mediocre and hadn't scored more than 24 points since October. The petition to rename the MAC the Mercilessly Agonizing Conference should be circulating any day now.

The Sun Belt Agonizing Moment of the Week. Middle Tennessee State 28, Florida International 27. Speaking of agony: the Golden Panthers locked up the Sun Belt conference title in Week 13, then became the second victim of a one-point Blue Raiders win in as many weeks, leaving 7-5 Troy as the only Sun Belt team over .500.

The FCS Score of the Week. Villanova 54, Stephen F. Austin 24. Villanova trailed 21-7 after the first quarter; Stephen F. Austin kinda blew the save. Honorable mention: North Dakota State 42, Montana State 17, in which the Bobcats led 17-14 in the fourth quarter, then gave up four unanswered rushing touchdowns to the Bison.

The Division II Or Below Score of the Week. Wisconsin-Whitewater 20, North Central 10. The Warhawks ran their winning streak to 28 games, the longest in college football. North Central College, in case you were wondering, is located in Naperville, Illinois, and was originally called North-Western College.