When Auburn took to the National Championship field against Oregon some two months ago, the overwhelming belief was that both teams would combine towards a shootout for the ages.
And though that surmise was widely predisposed from the media to the fans, the actual on-field performance wasn't what we had hoped for.
In the center of it all was the Tigers' Heisman-winning quarterback, Cam Newton, who, for all intents and purposes, was expected to maintain his reputation as college football's best player.
Looking back, Auburn's 22-19 down-to-the-wire triumph over the Ducks yielded as many questions about the future of each team as the fate of Newton—who is now widely projected as the eventual No. 1 pick for the Carolina Panthers.
How is this so?
From his monumental 6'6'', 250-pound frame, Heisman Trophy, recent NFL combine workouts and boisterous personality to his infamous "entertainer and icon" quote, Newton's status around the league (and world, for that matter) is that he is not afraid to take on criticism.
Be that as it may, mock draft experts around the world have the Panthers taking Newton as the first pick in this year's NFL draft. And though I am not one to question his far superior athleticism and personal capabilities, the rumors surrounding Carolina's impending decision on Newton and the rest of the prospects available with the draft's first selection are a bit mind-boggling, to say the least.
After a mediocre 2009 season ending in an 8-8 record, the Panthers—then still under the direction of John Fox, I might add—chose to take a chance on former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen with the 48th overall selection in the draft (Carolina did not have a first-round selection).
From what most of the country could tell, Clausen's inaugural season became dedicated to learning a Panthers' system, one desperate for quarterbacking leadership. Yes, Clausen managed to see action in just 13 of Carolina's 16 games; however, as we've seen in years past, those crucial "development years" of a quarterback's role within an offense come in the first two to three seasons, and Clausen now falls under that category.
If Newton truly is to become the Panthers' quarterback of the future, then he'll also have to go through some rough patches.
In 2010, Carolina gave up a total of 50 sacks—embarrassing enough to be second-most in the entire league. Are you really going to tell me Newton will be able to evade those consistently punishing linebackers currently residing in the NFC South?
Of course, Newton did show us all a thing or two about how increased mobility can eventually equate into championships, scorching opposing defenses for over 2,800 yards through the air as well as rushing for over 1,400 yards on his way to becoming far and away college football's most productive offensive player.
His critics may continue to disrespect his abilities; however, the one thing they cannot take away from his game is his efficiency throwing the football. A 182.05 quarterback rating a season ago was good enough to be the second best among all FBS quarterbacks, and his 30 passing touchdowns stakes his claim as the nation's most prosperous talent heading into this year's draft.
However, after everything is said and done, will Newton be Carolina's starting quarterback at the beginning of next season?
The answer to that question can only be answered on April 28th.