We’re just over two months out from the (purported) beginning of the season. And, with everyone going nuts about the Patriots signing Cam Newton, it sparked a little mental exercise and some offline dialogue about individual brilliance over the course of a season.
Today is a really open-ended discussion piece. Who had the best single season that you’ve ever seen?
There are no set criteria, so feel free to play fast and loose with it. Was the contribution impactful? Did it matter on the scoreboard? Did the guy win a bunch of individual awards? Did he lead a team to a championship? Were there some eye-popping stats? Did you just shake your head or say “wow” when they made a play? What era did they play in, since there is far more parity in the modern game — for instance, I’m going to use a reasonably arbitrary 30ish years or so.
I guess I’ll start, and I’ll just use all of those, though you’re not obligated to do so. And I’ve narrowed it down to a manageable list: Derrick Henry (2015), Tua Tagovailoa (2018), Baker Mayfield (2017), Tim Tebow (2008), Ndamukong Suh (2009), Cam Newton (2010), Johnny Manziel (2012), Quinnen Williams (2018), Ricky Williams (1998), Derrick Thomas (1988), and Reggie Bush (2005).
That’s a formidable 11 players, to be sure. But, at the end of the day, I can only pick one — and I’m going with Cam Newton.
Modern era and tough competition? Check.
The Tigers played six teams all ranked inside the Top 20. Its OOC games included Clemson. Its cross divisional opponents included bowl-bound Kentucky and SEC East winner South Carolina...on top of Georgia.
Gaudy Stats? You could say that:
Newton threw 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns with 7 interceptions and a 66.1 completion percentage. He ran for 1,473 yards and 20 TDs and 5.88 yards per carry. With 50 total TDs, he averaged 3.6 per game.
Averaging more than 309 yards total offense per game at Auburn, Newton ranked eighth in the country in total offense, just ahead of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Auburn ranked seventh in the country in total offense at 499.2 yards per game.
Not as ridiculous as Tua’s CFB-record performances, to be sure. But he still smashed a 40-year-old SEC record, topped Tebow’s allegedly-insurmountable 2008 season, and notched an unreal 50 touchdowns all by his lonesome. He won the Heisman for a reason.
Big Game Performances? MVP guy? Championships? Without question.
Aside from leading the single-biggest Iron Bowl comeback in history, on the road against No. 8 Alabama, Newton was at his best when the spotlight was on him. Alabama probably had the best success of anyone defending him all season. Even then, Newton threw for three second-half touchdowns, ran for another one, managed the offense well, and didn’t commit a turnover.
But, the day that he won his Heisman trophy was on October 23rd, 2010. LSU had bottled up the Auburn passing game, and had used exceptional discipline to take away the outside running lanes. The plan was to funnel Newton right into the interior of a defensive line that would put five player in the NFL over the next two seasons. And...it didn’t work. The 250-pound behemoth dished out far more than he took, ripping off over 200 yards rushing in a simply jaw-dropping sequence, particularly late in the game.
Without Cam Newton, Auburn doesn’t win that game...or several others that season. In fact, it’s struggling to get to 8 wins again. But, not only did the Tigers win, and keep winning, and keep winning, Newton took a remarkably flawed and average team in so many respects and put them on his back to 14 wins, an SEC title, and a national championship.
Gross. I don’t like this any more than you do. But, I’m calling it as I see it. And, over the last 30-ish years, Cam Newton had the most remarkable one season that I can recall.
You may have forgotten just how good he was.