Editor’s note: This week, “College Football Live” will be counting down the top five individual performances of the last 50 years. Cam Newton's 2010 season came in at No. 4. Tune in to “College Football Live” at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Cam Newton came and went in the SEC like a thunderous bolt of lightning.
In just one season as Auburn’s quarterback, he turned the college football world upside down with a record-setting performance they will be talking about on the Plains for a long time to come.
The 6-foot-6, 250-pound Newton could have easily passed for a defensive end, but he was fast enough and powerful enough to lead the SEC in rushing with 1,473 yards and skilled enough as a passer to finish second nationally in passing efficiency with a 182.05 mark that broke the SEC single-season record.
“When he’s out on the field, it’s almost like he’s a man amongst boys,” marveled former Auburn great Bo Jackson.
More than his gaudy stats, it was Newton’s ability to elevate the play of everybody around him that made his 2010 season so special. The Tigers went 14-0 and won their first national championship in 53 years.
Newton, who accounted for 51 touchdowns and set the SEC record with 4,327 yards of total offense, became only the third player in the BCS era to win the Heisman Trophy and BCS national championship in the same season.
And every time the Tigers needed him to deliver along the way in 2010, Newton was right there to answer the call.
He accounted for five touchdowns in the regular-season win over South Carolina. He rushed for 198 yards in the comeback win at Kentucky. He topped that performance with a career-best 217 rushing yards against LSU, including a dazzling 49-yard touchdown romp in the third quarter.
Then, in the comeback for the ages at Alabama, Newton accounted for four touchdowns, and he followed that up a week later with six touchdowns in the SEC championship game win over South Carolina.
Newton and the Tigers completed their perfect season a month later with a 22-19 win over Oregon in the BCS National Championship Game.
Even before the title game, the questions about where Newton ranked among college football’s greatest players began making the rounds.
His coach, Gene Chizik, said simply, “He’s probably the best football player I’ve ever seen.”
And mighty resilient, too.
As great as Newton was on the field, he was equally polarizing off it in the eyes of Auburn’s rivals. Newton persevered through an NCAA investigation into his recruitment, an investigation that played out very publicly during the 2010 season as Newton was carving apart opposing defenses.
The NCAA determined that Newton’s father, Cecil Newton, solicited money from Mississippi State while Newton was being recruited out of junior college. But because there was no proof that Newton knew about the play-for-pay scheme or that any money ever exchanged hands, Newton never missed any games and was allowed to continue playing.
The 13-month probe finally ended last November with the NCAA clearing Auburn and Newton of any wrongdoing.
It’s impossible to look back on Newton’s one and only season at Auburn without casting a wandering eye toward the NCAA investigation and all of the allegations.
But in a lot of ways, the fact that he was able to play so effectively and so consistently with that black cloud hovering for the latter part of the season speaks to what a brilliant season it was for Newton.
His teammates rallied around him, and Newton took it upon himself to make sure that the crystal trophy came back to the Plains for the first time in more than a half century.