Stat Tiger: Newton's Growth to Greatness

Columnist Stuart Carter writes about what makes a great quarterback and why Auburn's Cameron Newton measures up to that standard.

What defines a great quarterback?

Some judge quarterbacks on victories and championships, which makes sense simply because many championship teams possess a great quarterback. If this is the case, Cameron Newton is certainly a great quarterback based on his 11-1 record at Blinn College and a junior college national championship to boot combined with his success so far at Auburn that includes leading his team to the SEC West and overall league championships.

He is now 13-0 as the starting quarterback of the Tigers. When last seen in a football game he was leading Auburn to the most lopsided victory ever in a Southeastern Conference Championship game as the Tigers defeated South Carolina 56-17.

In two seasons Newton is now 24-1 as a starter and his team is about to play in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 10th. There are many great quarterbacks who never won a championship at the collegiate level or at the professional level, so does Newton's success on the field automatically make him a great quarterback?

If it's not just victories and championships that define the greatness of a quarterback, certainly it must be his individual achievements as a player. At Blinn College he passed for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 655 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Newton holds the 2010 Heisman Trophy he was presented earlier this month at a ceremony in New York City.

In one game he passed for 360 yards and rushed for more than 200 yards, accounting for five offensive touchdowns. He averaged 291 yards and three touchdowns per game and many predicted he could not have the same level of success at the FBS level, especially not in the competitive world of the Southeastern Conference.

A year later Newton not only has posted similar numbers against SEC competition, his numbers at Auburn are actually better than his one year at Blinn College.

Through 13 games as the starting quarterback for the Tigers, Newton has accounted for 4,040 yards and 49 touchdowns. He is currently the nation's leading passer with a quarterback rating of 188.2, which is the best ever obtained by a Division IA quarterback since the NCAA started rating quarterbacks on a mathematical formula in 1979.

He's also the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher, currently ranked No. 15 in the nation. Of Auburn's record-setting 133 impact plays so far this season, Newton has been directly involved in 89 of them.

In 25 starts as a quarterback at Blinn and at Auburn, Newton has completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 9.3 yards per attempt, 50 touchdown passes and only 11 interceptions. He has rushed for more 2,000 yards at nearly 6.0 yards per rush, including 36 rushing touchdowns.

Newton is averaging 10.5 yards per pass attempt this season. In the last decade only five starting college quarterbacks have averaged at least 10 yards per pass attempt during the course of an entire season and Newton will join former Auburn quarterback, Jason Campbell (2004), as one of the five if he holds his average through the BCS Championship Game.

If victories, championships and individual numbers are not enough to define a great quarterback, what is? How has he performed under pressure and is he the type of quarterback who can rally his team from defeat? As Auburn fans know well, Newton has performed with poise under pressure throughout his Heisman Trophy winning season.

On November 26, 2010, Newton directed the greatest comeback in school history after Auburn trailed Alabama on the road, 24-0. Though the Crimson Tide took away Auburn's running game while building a lead, Newton rallied the Tigers as he passed for three touchdowns while scoring a fourth on the ground. That victory alone will make him a legend among Auburn fans, but it wasn't the first time he carried the Tigers to a big comeback victory this season.

Auburn trailed 17-0 to Clemson before Newton passed for two touchdowns while accounting for 271 of Auburn's 424 yards in a 27-24 overtime victory. The very next week Auburn fell behind to South Carolina, 20-7, but Newton accounted for 334 yards and all five of Auburn's touchdowns in a 35-27 come from behind victory.

Against the Kentucky Wildcats on the road, Newton accounted for 408 yards and four touchdowns in a thrilling 37-34 victory. Auburn had to march from its own seven-yard line to the Wildcat seven-yard line for the game-winning field goal. The SEC Offensive Player of the Year was directly involved in 13 of the final 18 offensive snaps that set up the game-winning kick.

Cam Newton has had plenty of moments to smile about this season.

Newton had one of his best moments on a scintillating 54-yard touchdown run against LSU, which moved the discussions of Newton for the Heisman into a higher gear. Down the stretch run of the regular season he accounted for four touchdowns against Georgia and Alabama beore accounting for six in Auburn's dominating performance in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game.

He clearly has proven his worth as a dynamic leader on the field, including the ability to consistently rally his team from behind. He now possesses a high number of victories, championships, record-setting statistics and glorified performances under duress. Certainly this is sufficient enough to call him a great quarterback.

Though we often attempt to measure the greatness in an individual by his accomplishments, greatness can also be defined by the obstacles he or she overcame to achieve those goals. By now we all know Newton's story of being a star player out of Westlake High School in College Park, Ga., where he signed with the University of Florida. His dreams and goals of becoming the starting quarterback there were derailed for various reasons, which resulted in Newton's departure from the glamour of SEC football to an out-of-the spotlight outpost of junior college football at Blinn College in Texas, which became the location where Newton's transformation from great athlete to great quarterback would begin.

While his stay at Blinn would become a humbling experience, it laid the foundation for Newton becoming accountable for his actions and started the revival of a young man. With his success on and off the field at Blinn and continued development at Auburn as a leader who has learned how to elevate the game of those around him as well as his own play, Newton has put together one of the greatest seasons by any college quarterback to ever play the game.

Newton is hoisted into the air by his teammates following a touchdown.

Setting aside all of his accomplishments, what separates Newton from other great quarterbacks is the "it' factor. It is his ability to make his performance on the field appear to be so smooth and natural while everyone around him appears to be working so diligently to stop him. It is his composure under pressure and the appearance of being unflappable despite having a major target on his back that helps make him special. It is his smile throughout the game, which reminds us all it is indeed a game, but despite the complexity of this competitive sport Newton is executing his challenging assignments and having fun doing it.

There is always that moment during the game in which Newton rocks his head as if he is listening to his favorite music inside his helmet amidst the chaos of the game winding down. Within that 6-6, 250-pound frame exists a young man who still finds the childlike elation of simply playing a game and his personality is contagious among his teammates. They respect him as a football player, but more importantly they admire him as a person. This is not to say he is perfect, but he is undeniably special. He understands the hard work required to perform on the big stage as evidenced by the work ethic displayed since the day he set foot on the Auburn campus January, but never forgets who he is and the path it took for him to finally arrive at this moment in his life.

Finally, when he speaks, Newton always places God, family, coaches and teammates first. At minimum, this is a good sign of having his priorities right or at least knowing where they should be.

Yes, Newton is a great quarterback based on what he has accomplished on the field. He is the best quarterback to ever play at Auburn and certainly one of the best to ever play this wonderful game. Even former Auburn coach Pat Dye and former Heisman winner Bo Jackson have called him the best to ever suit up at Auburn. These are impressive endorsements from two great Auburn men who should obviously know or at least be respected for their opinions.

Newton celebrates with 1985 Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson (left) at the SEC Championship Game.

Sadly, Jan. 10, 2011 might just be the last time we see Newton in an Auburn uniform, mainly because his talents deserve a grander stage to perform on. Whether or not he is successful at the next level won't change what he has accomplished to date. Newton discovered his inner strength to greatness, finding the ability to make those around him better, which is the primary reason why Auburn is one victory away from winning it all and the most logical reason why Auburn can win it all.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories