Auburn University quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy last Saturday. And while his performance made him a virtual shoo-in for the award, the road to the trophy could not have been rockier.
Regardless of whether Newtonís on-field performance is a bigger story or whether the off-field trials and tribulations are bigger headlines, one thing is clear. No individual has dominated the sportís headlines quite like the 6-foot-6 junior from College Park, Ga.
Between the lines, no player had a greater impact in 2010. Newton passed for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns. His quarterback rating of 188.2 was the best in the upper level of college football. His 1,409 yards on the ground was 10th in the nation and second among quarterbacks. Newton is the ultimate dual threat.
He engineered second-half comebacks on many occasions, his most memorable being the Nov. 26 effort against defending national champion Alabama when he led Auburn back from a 24-7 halftime deficit to win 28-27. His efforts also earned him three other major awards.
And on top of all that, he almost single-handedly led the Tigers to a 13-0 record and a berth in the Jan. 10 BCS National Championship game in Glendale, Ariz., where he will face Oregon.
And he accomplished all this while dark clouds about his past and his current eligibility surfaced all around him. In 2008, Newton was expelled from the University of Florida for allegedly purchasing a stolen laptop. Allegations also surfaced that he cheated on assignments, first handing in a paper written by another student, then handing one in he purchased off the internet. He spent 2009 at a Texas junior college.
In early November, a Mississippi State recruiter communicated that Newtonís father, Cecil, asked for at least $100,000 US for his son to commit to the school. Immediately that raised questions as to whether he made the same demands of Auburn and whether the school had compensated the Newton family beyond a scholarship.
Auburn suspended Newton on Dec. 1 but immediately filed to have him reinstated in time for the SEC Championship game against South Carolina. The NCAA found that Cam had no knowledge of his fatherís play-for-pay scheme and reinstated him, clearing him of any wrong-doing.
But that still didnít satisfy many observers who, with the stench of the retroactive ineligibility of 2005 Heisman winner Reggie Bush and the sanctions against the University of Southern California still in the air, attributed the NCAAís decision to the realization that Cam Newton is worth more to college football on the field than off it.
Ducks flying high
Newton wasnít the only story of the college football season. He will face in the championship game an Oregon team who will be competing for a national championship for the first time in their 117-year history. The Ducks, in only their second season under current head coach Chip Kelly was an offensive powerhouse that failed to score 40 points in a game just twice in 12 games, led by quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, a Heisman finalist who captured the Doak Walker Award as the nationís top running back.
The plight of two small-conference schools also dominated headlines. Texas Christian was perfect in 12 games but gets the shaft in the BCS rankings because they play a perceived softer schedule. They earn a nice trip to the Rose Bowl but are the biggest argument for a playoff system.
Boise State could have added more fuel to the controversy, but just hours after Auburnís win over Alabama, the Broncos blew a 24-7 halftime lead at Nevada, despite still having a chance to win the game when kicker Kyle Brotzman had a 26-yard field goal attempt in regulation, which he missed, and later a 29-yarder in overtime, which also missed the uprights. The loss plunged them from a sure berth in the Rose Bowl to a minor bowl in Las Vegas.
With the success stories come the disappointments. Alabama was looking to defend their 2009 championship but a 35-21 loss to South Carolina in October set them back. Its slim hopes were dashed in a loss to LSU before it lost to Auburn.
Its opponent in the BCS championship, Texas, went 5-7, suffering its worst season since 1997, which was its last without a bowl appearance.
Then thereís the Big East, which was college footballís version of the NFC West. The conference did not produce a bowl-eligible (six wins) team until early November. Its lone BCS bid goes to the Connecticut Huskies, which enter the Fiesta Bowl with an 8-4 record.