Editor’s note: SDS is ranking the 25 best SEC players — at any position — of the last decade. Auburn QB Cam Newton is next up in a 25-part daily series.


A five-star dual-threat quarterback from Atlanta, Georgia, Cameron Jerrell Newton committed to coach Urban Meyer’s Florida team in early September of his senior year of high school.

He won the backup role in 2007, which happened to be the season that Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy for the Gators. Newton played sparingly as a true freshman, mostly as a running threat, carrying 16 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns. An ankle injury early in ’08 led to a medical redshirt, setting up Newton as Tebow’s backup for one last season in 2009 before he’d have the opportunity to start for Meyer for two years as the coaches’ next great quarterback.

Instead, Florida suspended Newton from the team after he got caught stealing a laptop. Newton announced his intention to transfer just three days before the team won a national championship against Oklahoma, spending the ’09 season playing for Blinn College (and head coach Brad Franchione, son of former Alabama and Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione), Newton became an instant star, elevating himself into a five-star recruit.

This time Newton chose Auburn ahead of Oklahoma and Mississippi State in what would become a controversial decision. Throughout the second half of 2010, allegations swirled that his father, Cecil Newton, shopped his son to college football programs for large sums of money. Although evidence came up that the father solicited a cash payment from Mississippi State, Newton retained his eligibility, and no further wrongdoing ever was proven.

Newton was a godsend to Auburn on the field, immediately leading the SEC in rushing yards ahead of players like Marcus Lattimore, Stevan Ridley and Mark Ingram. (Speaking of Tebow, the Florida quarterback never came within 500 yards of Newton’s 1,473 in ’10.)

But at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, big and strong enough to elude pressure and heave the ball downfield from a variety of angles and positions on the field, Newton averaged a whopping 10.2 yards per attempt as a passer despite lacking tremendous talent at receiver. (Darvin Adams, his No. 1 target, went undrafted and has spent most of his professional career as a role player in the Canadian Football League.)

Auburn scored 41.2 points per game that season, rushing for 3,987 yards — nearly 1,200 more than the SEC’s second-best run offense.

Unflappable under pressure, trailing or under NCAA investigation, Newton helped the Tigers to a remarkable 7-0 record in games decided by one possession, including a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the BCS championship game.

A different kind of leader than Tebow, Newton nonetheless served as the ’10 Auburn team’s verbal catalyst and backed it on the field with swagger and physicality.

Drafted No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers, Newton has morphed into a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback that most would rank in the middle of the pack in terms of NFL starters. But his one season at Auburn proved that, with the right quarterback and a decent defense, any major program can capture lightning in a bottle.

Tebow provided longevity and Johnny Manziel was thrilling, but neither player provided a more impactful and dominating single season than Newton’s ’10.

Career numbers: In one season at Auburn, Newton threw for 2,854 yards, ran for 1,473 and combined for 50 total touchdowns. He also threw for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns for Blinn College in 2009.

Individual superlatives: 2010 — Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Manning Award, Associated Press College Football Player of the Year, SEC Offensive Player of the Year, consensus first-team All-American, first-team All-SEC.

NFL draft: No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers in 2011.

Defining moment: Down 24-0 to No. 9 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Newton rallied the team to a 28-27 victory, preserving his Heisman Trophy and the Tigers’ national championship.