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Best College Football Seasons of All Time: 2010 Cam Newton or 2007 Tim Tebow?

David LutherFeatured ColumnistAugust 3, 2011

Best College Football Seasons of All Time: 2010 Cam Newton or 2007 Tim Tebow?

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    It's often difficult to compare two players who have never faced each other on the field. But such is the nature of sports. Auburn fans undoubtedly believe Cam Newton is one of the greatest of all time. Florida fans would argue that Tim Tebow should get that honor.

    While Newton had a great 2010, it might be a little unfair to compare his entire career to Tim Tebow's. But when you boil it down to individual seasons, there are arguments to be made for both Cam Newton in 2010 and Tim Tebow in 2007 as the better quarterback.

    So, which quarterback is in the running for having the best season of all time?

Tim Tebow, by the Numbers

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    Let's take a look at the raw stats for Tim Tebow in 2007.

    Games played: 13

    Pass attempts: 350

    Pass completions: 234

    Completion percentage: 66.9

    Passer rating: 172.5

    Passing yards: 3,286

    Yards per pass: 9.39

    Yards per completion: 14.04

    Passing TDs: 32

    Interceptions: 6

    Times sacked: 13

    Rush attempts: 210

    Rushing yards: 895

    Yards per rush: 4.26

    Rushing TDs: 23

    Statistically, 2007 was Tim Tebow's best season as a Florida Gator.

Tim Tebow, Award-Wise

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    In addition to the impressive statistics, Tim Tebow also accumulated an impressive list of accolades in 2007.

    Heisman Trophy (Player of the Year Award)

    Maxwell Award (POTY Award)

    Davey O'Brien Award (Top QB)

    Harley Award (POTY Award)

    James E. Sullivan Award (Top amateur athlete, all sports, all levels)

    NCAA Quarterback of the Year

    Sporting News Player of the Year

    Rivals.com Offensive Player of the Year

    Rivals.com SEC Player of the Year

    AP Player of the Year

    AP SEC Offensive Player of the Year

    SEC Male Athlete of the Year (all sports)

    ESPY Award for Best Male College Athlete (all sports)

    AP All-American (First Team)

    FWAA All-American (First Team)

    Walter Camp Football Foundation All-American (First Team)

    Sporting News All-American (First Team)

    Sports Illustrated All-American (First Team)

    ESPN All-American (First Team)

    CBS Sports All-American (First Team)

    College Football News All-American (First Team)

    Rivals.com All-American (First Team)

    Scout.com All-American (First Team)

    Academic All-American (First Team)

    Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week

    SEC Offensive Player of the Week (three times)

    That's 28 different award given to Tim Tebow for his exploits during the 2007 season. Most impressively, some of the awards are all-sports awards. In the case of Sullivan Award, it covers all amateur athletes in the country, regardless of their level of competition (college or otherwise).

Tim Tebow, the General

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    While Tim Tebow certainly racked up quite a list of impressive personal accomplishments in 2007, his first season as the Gators' starting field general saw Florida underachieve, at least considering their lofty preseason ranking.

    As defending BCS Champions, Florida began the 2007 as the No. 3 team in the nation. After easily dispatching Western Kentucky (49-3) and Troy (59-31), Florida began SEC play.

    Florida met then-No. 24 Tennessee on September 15, and Tebow led the Gators to a unsurprising win by a surprising margin—the Gators dispatched the Volunteers easily, 59-20.

    The first sign of trouble for Florida occurred during their first road trip of 2007. The pesky Rebels from Ole Miss welcomed the Gators to Oxford and nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in Mississippi history, falling just short, 30-24. But the shiny exterior of the Florida juggernaut had been dented. Florida was seen as a beatable team for the first time in over a year.

    On September 29, then-No. 3 Florida hosted an unranked Auburn team in a nationally-televised night game at The Swamp. Before a national audience on ESPN, Auburn proceeded to upset the Gators, 20-17. Florida dropped to No. 7 in the coaches poll the following day.

    Florida had to follow the loss to Auburn with a much-anticipated trip to then-No. 2 LSU on October 6. Again, in front of a national television audience on CBS, Florida came up just short, losing to LSU 28-24. The Gators then slipped in the polls for the second consecutive week.

    Tebow and the Gators were able to find some measure of redemption after a week off to lick their wounds. The Gators travelled to Lexington, Kentucky as the No. 14 team in the nation to take on the then-No. 13 Wildcats. In what ended up as an offensive shoot-out, Florida outlasted the Wildcats, 45-37, and jumped back to No. 9 in the coaches poll heading into their annual showdown with Georgia.

    When both teams left Jacksonville on October 27, No. 19 Georgia walked away as victors, having dispatched the Tebow-led Gators, 42-30. Florida slid all the way to No. 17, having suffered their third setback of the season.

    Even after an impressive win against Vanderbilt at home, Florida fell to No. 18 before having a chance to regain some poll points with an impressive win at South Carolina.

    The Gators finished the regular season with two more wins over unranked non-conference opponents (Florida Atlantic and Florida State), finishing third in the SEC-East at 5-3 in conference play.

    When it came time for bowl selections, Florida, then No. 9, benefited from two SEC teams being selected to play in BCS bowl games following the 2007 season.

    Two-loss LSU remarkably was chosen to play in the 2008 BCS Championship Game, and Georgia, finishing second in the SEC-East (behind SEC-East champion No. 12 Tennessee) but ranked No. 4 in the polls, was selected to play in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. That left Florida as the highest-ranked SEC team not participating in a BCS bowl.

    Florida was selected to play Michigan in the 2008 Capital One Bowl. An inspired Michigan Wolverines squad was able to slip past Tebow and the Gators, sending their retiring head coach, Lloyd Carr, out as a winner. Michigan won, 41-35, and Florida finished the season 9-4, and ranked No. 13 in the final coaches poll of the year.

    In the end, there were no championships, no trophies, and an empty feeling in Gainesville, especially after having won the BCS Championship the year prior.

Tebow's Season-Defining Moment

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    After losses to Auburn and LSU over two consecutive weeks, Tim Tebow and the Gators were staring the fate of their season directly in the eyes. After a week off to recover, and perhaps do a little soul-searching, the Gators traveled to Lexington to take on the Kentucky Wildcats, then the No. 13 team in the nation. Florida was ranked No. 14, but even so, were favored by a touchdown.

    After falling behind early to Kentucky, 7-0, Tebow led the Gators down the field to tie the game. Shortly thereafter, Tebow found Louis Murphy for a 66-yard touchdown, putting the Gators up 14-7.

    With a 21-10 lead coming out of the break, Tebow and the Gators refused to allow the Wildcats to get close, and Florida opened the scoring in the second half. The teams traded scored for the rest of the game, but a Tebow rushing touchdown put Florida up 45-31 with very little time remaining.

    Kentucky scored a touchdown as time expired, and the game ended with a 45-37 Florida victory (it's worth noting that Kentucky did not attempt the PAT, which if successful, would have given Florida a seven-point victory, pushing the spread—instead the eight-point victory beat the spread).

    Florida faced a higher-ranked opponent on the road after suffering two season-deflating losses in the previous two games. Were it not for the never-say-die attitude of Tim Tebow (and, of course, his teammates), it is entirely possible and maybe even likely that Florida, with the hopes of the season dashed, could have folded.

    They didn't, and rather than a mediocre bowl game against a mediocre opponent, Florida fought through to the season's conclusion, earning a trip to the Capital One Bowl to take on a feisty Michigan team. That experience, more than anything else, prepared Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators for the successes that were to follow.

A Summary of Tim Tebow's 2007 Season

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    Believe it or not, there were people who questioned whether or not Tim Tebow had the passing ability to handle the starting quarterback job at a program like Florida.

    By the time Tebow was finished with the 2007 season, he had not only broken several records at Florida, he also became the first-ever underclassman to win the Heisman Trophy.

    Add in at least 27 other personal awards for the 2007 season, and it's pretty clear that Tim Tebow had silenced every single person who had raised questions about his quarterbacking abilities back before the season began.

    In a nutshell, Tim Tebow not only had perhaps the greatest season of any quarterback in Gainesville, he had one of the best seasons as a quarterback anywhere.

Cam Newton, by the Numbers

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    Let's take a look at the raw stats for Cam Newton in 2010.

    Games played: 14

    Pass attempts: 280

    Pass completions: 185

    Completion percentage: 66.1

    Passer rating: 182.1

    Passing yards: 2,854

    Yards per pass: 10.1

    Yards per completion: 15.4

    Passing TDs: 30

    Interceptions: 7

    Times sacked: 23

    Rush attempts: 264

    Rushing yards: 1,473

    Yards per rush: 5.6

    Rushing TDs: 20

    Since Newton only played one season at Auburn, there's not much else to compare it to. But even so, it was one heck of a performance.

Cam Newton, Award-Wise

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    In addition to the impressive statistics, Cam Newton also accumulated an impressive list of accolades in 2010.

    Heisman Trophy (Player of the Year Award)

    Maxwell Award (POTY Award)

    Walter Camp Award (POTY Award)

    Davey O'Brien Award (Top QB)

    Manning Award (Top QB as voted by the Sugar Bowl Committee)

    Harley Award (POTY Award)

    Sporting News Player of the Year

    AP Player of the Year

    AP SEC Offensive Player of the Year

    AP All-American (First Team)

    AFCA All-American (First Team)

    Walter Camp Football Foundation All-American (First Team)

    Sporting News All-American (First Team)

    Sports Illustrated All-American (First Team)

    ESPN All-American (First Team)

    CBS Sports All-American (First Team)

    College Football News All-American (First Team)

    Rivals.com All-American (First Team)

    Scout.com All-American (First Team)

    Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week

    SEC Offensive Player of the Week (three times)

    That's quite a list for Newton in 2010. While it doesn't quite have the length of Tebow's accomplishments, the quality of the awards won is no less impressive.

Cam Newton, the General

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    When the season got underway, Auburn was not getting much attention. Unlike Florida in 2007, there weren't a host of accomplishments from the previous season that led anyone to believe Auburn would be a title contender. Auburn began the season as the No. 23 team in the nation, according to the coaches' poll.

    Auburn easily rolled over Arkansas State en route to a 52-26 victory in week one, and Cam Newton earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance.

    In week two, Auburn got an early start to the SEC season, traveling to Mississippi State to take on the unranked Bulldogs. At this point in the season, no one yet had any idea how good Auburn could be, or how good Mississippi State could be. The two teams battled to the finish, and Auburn narrowly escaped with a 17-14 win.

    However, it was Auburn's defense in that game that garnered the most attention. Nick Farley was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week, and the seventeen points put up by the Newton-led offense would be a season low.

    Auburn's steady, if unimpressive, performance had earned them the No. 16 spot in the nation going into the September 18 game against Clemson. That game would become the closest game for Auburn all season long. The two groups of Tigers battled relentlessly throughout the game, and extra time would eventually be needed to determine a winner.

    ESPN's College GameDay was visiting Auburn this week, and the national television audience was certainly treated to an instant classic. Clemson flew out to a 17-0 lead, and it looked as if Auburn was completely overmatched. Auburn managed to score just three points in the first half, and began the third quarter facing a 14-point deficit. That didn't seem to bother Newton, as he led the Tigers to three third quarter touchdowns, taking a 24-17 lead into the fourth quarter.

    Clemson put the only fourth quarter points on the board, tying the game and sending it to overtime. Auburn was only able to manage a field goal on their first overtime possession, but the defense stiffened, and it looked as if Clemson would have to be content to kick a field goal to tie the game. Although the kick was good, a penalty on Clemson took the points off the board, moved the kick back five yards, and forced a second try. This time, the kick was no good, and Auburn escaped with a 27-24 overtime victory.

    In another come-from-behind victory, Auburn dispatched then-No. 15 South Carolina, 35-27, by scoring 14 fourth quarter points. Cam Newton had five total touchdown (two passing, three rushing), and had 334 yards of total offense.

    Not only did the win propel Auburn into the top ten, it was the first time that most of the nation had heard Cam Newton and Heisman Trophy in the same sentence.

    After an easy win against Louisiana-Monroe, Auburn jumped to No. 8 heading into their road game at Kentucky. The Tigers' attack was again led by Newton, who not only guided his team to another narrow victory, but also accounted for four first-half touchdowns. Newton finished the day with 408 yards of total offense—198 rushing yards and 210 passing. Newton was no longer a passing mention when it came to the Heisman. He was now a front-runner.

    The much-anticipated showdown with Arkansas, then the No. 12 team in the nation, proved to be an offensive shoot-out from two of the SEC's best quarterbacks. Cam Newton, a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy by this point, was facing an Arkansas team led by the Preseason All-SEC Quarterback, Ryan Mallett.

    Touchdown after touchdown poured onto the scoreboard, in what would become the highest-scoring non-overtime conference game in SEC history. The two teams combined for 1,036 yards of offense and 108 points.

    Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Mallett left the game before halftime with a concussion, and Newton was able to guide the Tigers to a 65-43 victory.

    There was no rest for Auburn, as No. 6 LSU was next on No. 4 Auburn's schedule. Again, Cam Newton led the way for the Tigers, with 217 rushing yards and two touchdowns, which broke the SEC single-game rushing mark for a quarterback—a record that had stood since 1963. Auburn emerged with a 24-17 win, and Newton now looked all but unbeatable in the race for the Heisman Trophy.

    After dispatching a sagging Ole Miss team and strolling past FCS Chattanooga and SEC-East foe Georgia, the regular-season finale loomed—the Iron Bowl. That game was all that stood between Auburn and a guaranteed trip to the SEC Championship Game, and a likely trip to the BCS Championship. Auburn was No. 2 in the nation, and they were facing their perennial cross-state rival in one of the nation's best grudge matches.

    Alabama didn't blink at Auburn's lofty ranking, and jumped out to a shocking 24-0 second-quarter lead. It looked nearly certain that Auburn's perfect season was coming to an abrupt end.

    Cam Newton was having none of that. Despite Alabama's first-half explosion of points, the Auburn defense did its job by holding the Crimson Tide to just three second-half points, allowing Newton and company to do their thing. On just the second play of the second half, Newton found Terrell Zachery for a 70-yard touchdown. With less than a minute gone in the third quarter, Auburn now trailed by just ten points. Before the quarter was out, Auburn had narrowed the Tide's lead to just six points, trailing 27-21 heading into the final quarter.

    Less than four minutes into the final quarter, Auburn took the lead when Newton found Philip Lutzenkirchen in the end zone. The PAT gave Auburn a 28-27 lead, which also became the final score. Never in the history of Auburn football had the Tigers overcome a 24-point deficit to win a game. Never in the history of Alabama football had the Crimson Tide surrendered a 24-point lead to lose a game. Cam Newton and his fellow Tigers changed both of those statements in the 2010 Iron Bowl.

    After a lopsided victory over South Carolina in the 2010 SEC Championship Game, Auburn had stamped their ticket to the 2011 BCS Championship Game.

    In one of the most closely contested championship games, Oregon and Auburn traded scores all the way through the game. It wasn't until the final play of the game that a winner could be determined. True to form, Newton and the Tigers overcame an early deficit to capture a close, hard-fought victory. In this case, the 22-19 win over Oregon also gave Auburn their first BCS Championship in school history.

Newton's Season-Defining Moment

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    There were so many great moments for Cam Newton in 2010, it's hard to pick one as the moment that defined his 2010 campaign.

    Certainly, everyone at Auburn (and probably at Alabama as well) will be talking about the 2010 Iron Bowl for many years to come. While Cam Newton's performance wasn't statistically the greatest of his brief career at Auburn, it was one of the most important. Not only did Auburn save their chances to play for, and eventually win, a BCS title, they did so against their arch enemy, Alabama.

    In short, Cam Newton did in that one game what no other Auburn quarterback had done—Newton led his team back from a 24-point deficit. On top of that, he did it against a program that had never surrendered a 24-point lead in their long and illustrious history.

    When Auburn walked off the field against Alabama, they became a team destined to win a BCS championship, and Cam Newton became destined to win the 2010 Heisman Trophy.

A Summary of Cam Newton's 2010 Season

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    Looking back at Cam Newton's 2010 campaign, one can't help but notice his all-around ability to not only lead the team, but to nearly win games single-handed. Cam Newton epitomizes what modern quarterbacks must be if they hope to win a Heisman Trophy or guide any team to a BCS title.

    Newton could throw the ball a mile, and he could do it accurately, but if there wasn't a down-field option available, Newton could absolutely carve a defense up with his feet.

    In the end, Newton took an Auburn team that was ranked relatively low, compared to others in the SEC, and made the entire team better through his leadership and talent.

Conclusions

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    When comparing two players who never played against one another (and actually played on the same team in 2007), it's very difficult to make general statements about who is the better player or who had the better year.

    The SEC in 2007 had a different make up than the SEC in 2010. Florida was defending BCS Champions, and Auburn wasn't defending anything. Florida began the year highly ranked, Auburn did not. Florida was rarely, if ever an underdog. Auburn played that role frequently in the early part of the season.

    There are so many differences.

    But in the end, we're going to borrow one of the greatest definitions used for an “MVP” award. The Hart Trophy is awarded by the NHL, and rather than being a plain, run-of-the-mill MVP award, the Hart Trophy is awarded to “the player judged to be most valuable to his team's success.”

    That's a great way to define value when it comes to player performances. After all, what real value do great players have to teams that don't achieve much success? Isn't the goal to win?

    For that reason, we're selecting Cameron Newton in 2010 over Tim Tebow in 2007.

    Both players had absolutely amazing seasons, and both Tim Tebow and Cam Newton deserve to be remembered decades from now as two of the greatest ever to quarterback a college football team.

    But in 2010, Newton led the Tigers to an undefeated season, an SEC title and a BCS Championship. In 2007, Tebow and the Gators fell well short of those goals. Florida—in 2007—underachieved based on their preseason expectations, and Auburn clearly overachieved behind Newton's leadership.

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