Championship seasons are rarely a smooth journey and it's often the quarterback who navigates his team through the stormiest moments. Looking back at the last 10 BCS national championship games, 10 quarterbacks rated in the nation's Top 10 appeared in the big show. This doesn't include Matt Leinart of Southern Cal, who led his team to an Associated Press No. 1 ranking in 2004 or Jason Campbell, who directed Auburn to a 13-0 season the same year.
As Auburn gears up for year number two under Gene Chizik, Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn must find a new starting quarterback to command his dynamic offense. This will be Malzahn's fifth season as a collegiate coach and he's never had the same quarterback start for him two years in a row.
Once again spring football on the Plains will be a tryout session for the next starting quarterback. Cameron Newton appears to be the heavy favorite, but who knows what the competitive spirit will conjure up over the next month. Though Coach Malzahn would like to name a starter by the conclusion of spring practice, we could be waiting till summer time before a starter is named.
With the returning personnel from last season, Auburn has an opportunity to improve on its 8-5 record from 2009. If there is any chance of Auburn flirting with greatness in 2010 the starting quarterback will have to be a dependable performer. It's not about having championship moments in one or two games, its about possessing the perseverance to make the plays when they are needed the most.
It's a rare young quarterback who can summon such an effort, mainly because of the experience factor. Campbell was nowhere the same quarterback in 2002 as he was in 2004 for the Tigers. The talent was always there, but it took grooming and the right system to maximize his abilities.
Most coaches will lean towards the veteran signal caller when it comes to a competition at quarterback. If you take all the Top 10 rated quarterbacks over the last 20 seasons, 48 percent were seniors and 76 percent were a combination of juniors and seniors. Taking Auburn's 10 highest rated quarterbacks for a season since 1968, six were seniors, three were juniors and one was a sophomore. Having a veteran quarterback doesn't always equate to success, but it's certainly a terrific building block.
Of all the quarterbacks competing for the starting job at Auburn, Cameron Newton possesses the most game time experience though it's primarily his time as a junior college player.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn's offensive and quarterback coach, is beginning his second season with the Tigers.
Though Malzahn has not been fortunate enough to have the same starter in back-to-back seasons, he's done an exceptional job developing first-year starters. Under Malzahn, Chris Todd became a very efficient quarterback as Malzahn built his offense around Todd's strengths.
A transformation on offense is in order for 2010 as the eventual starter will likely be a better runner than Chris Todd. We will likely witness a few new wrinkles on offense and perhaps a more electrifying brand of offensive football. Defense and special teams will have to carry their weight if Auburn is to challenge for a conference title, but it won't matter if Auburn's quarterback cannot deliver when it's crunch time.
If Newton is named the starter and lives up to all the hype, it doesn't guarantee Auburn a championship season, but it certainly increases the odds. It's important to remember that despite the dynamic performance of Dameyune Craig and the Heisman season for Pat Sullivan, both quarterbacks were not part of a championship season.
Newton could very well need time to develop much like Campbell or Auburn could move on with a younger quarterback like Barrett Trotter or Clint Moseley, which could stretch the learning curb. No matter who starts at quarterback, they will simply be a piece of the puzzle required to reach such lofty goals.
William Arthur Ward once said, "Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records." Isn't this what has always separated the great quarterbacks from the good ones?