For a month, the question involving Cam Newton has been, “Did he or didn’t he?” Just for today, let’s try something different. Let’s ask instead: “Is he or isn’t he?”
As in, the greatest player in college football, and not just this year.
As in, the greatest ever.
Said Steve Spurrier, who won the Heisman and who has coached a Heisman winner: “That’s a good question. I don’t like putting anybody at the top, but he might be the best running quarterback probably ever to come through college ball.”
Gene Chizik coaches Auburn, so he doesn’t qualify as a disinterested party. But the same Gene Chizik was the defensive coordinator on a Texas team Vince Young willed to the 2005 BCS title, so he does have standing in the matter. And Chizik, asked if he’d ever seen a better college player than the one he has now, said this:
“No. It’s that simple. If you look over a 13-game span, I’ve never seen anything like it. And it’s running the ball, throwing the ball. Usually great quarterback usually do one or the other better … what God’s blessed Cameron with is the ability to be really, really good at both.”
Then: “We have one game left, so he can’t too big a head with one game left, but I can say he’s probably the best football player I’ve ever seen.”
Said Newton: “Wow.”
We might never know how Cam Newton came to be an Auburn Tiger, but let’s leave that for later. Let’s focus today on Cam Newton, Auburn Tiger. Let’s examine a quarterback who, in one SEC championship game Saturday, managed to replicate the best of what both Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow, Heisman winners from Florida, had done in this event on this field.
Against Spurrier’s Gamecocks, Newton passed for 335 yards and ran for 73. He accounted for six touchdowns — four passing, two running. He converted third-and-longs out of nothing.
The thinking was that South Carolina, having seen Newton in his game-of-arrival Sept. 25, might be better suited to get a hand on the irresistible Cam. Turned out the Gamecocks had no idea. They couldn’t sack him and couldn’t cover his receivers. They couldn’t even prevent him from — another Heisman reference! — pulling a Doug Flutie.
Sixteen seconds left, first half: The Gamecocks draw within 21-14. Newton throws two passes, the first for eight yards, the second for 51-yard deflected touchdown as time expired.
About here, you thought to yourself: “Tim Tebow never did that.”
Yeah, yeah. Nobody ever wondered if Tim Tebow’s daddy put him up for sale, either. But if we’re comparing the two quarterbacks — and it wouldn’t seem fanciful to do so, given that both played in the SEC and ran a spread offense — the sainted Tebow never worked the wonders in any of his four seasons that Newton has wrought in his one.
A year ago — to the day, Newton emphasized — this quarterback was winning a JUCO national championship with Blinn College of Texas. On Saturday he had won the SEC title and booked passage to the BCS title game and done it in his hometown to boot. “Words can’t explain it,” said Newton, meeting the media for the first time since Nov. 9.
Then: “It’s a wonder what God can do in a person’s life, in such quick fashion. I thank Him single every day. As soon as my feet touch [the floor] my knees touch … I can’t even be happier than I am right now.”
Newton began his postgame session by reading a statement: “I’ve done nothing wrong, and I’m only going to answer questions about football and this game.” And ordinarily we hard-nosed media types would have snorted with laughter at such a request. But such was the majesty of Newton’s play that the request seemed almost reasonable.
We can and will spend the month before Auburn plays Oregon in Glendale, Ariz., parsing the latest reports and allegations — and you just know some will be forthcoming — but for this night it was possible to revel in a performer and his performance. And we would like, so as not to leave the question posed above unanswered, to offer this:
Cam Newton is the second-best college player I’ve ever seen. Herschel Walker, and only Herschel Walker, was better. And not by much.