This post is part of a continuing series in which we break down 13 2011 NFL Draft prospects - our Baker's Dozen - that should interest the Buffalo Bills. Keep up to date on our Baker's Dozen series here.
Today we have a very special version of our college blogger conversations. We've been talking to fellow SB Nation writers who cover college teams about their top prospects to see if there was anything about their time in college that might be helpful in this draft process. When arriving to Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, let's just say there's plenty of college material to discuss.
We're joined by not one, but two different SB Nation blogs today. Like Newton, we'll start our look back with the University of Florida and end at Auburn. Please help me welcome Michael Maurino, who writes for our Florida blog, Alligator Army, and John Hicks a.k.a "Acid Reign," who writes at our Auburn blog, Track 'Em Tigers.
Newton began his career at Florida, but never lived up to the hype when he arrived. His Gator career was derailed by several problems that took place mostly off the field.
"When Newton came to Florida, he was supposed to be the next Tebow," explains Maurino. "It is also obvious that Newton must have been screwing up, considering how out of place John Brantley was this season for Florida. If Newton lost the backup job to Brantley, in an offense that Brantley was never able to run, he must have been acting up."
Newton faced several serious accusations while in Gainesville that Maurino assumes led to his benching.
"To be fair, Newton was never 'suspended,'" clarified Maurino, "but Urban Meyer liberally used half-game suspensions or 'DNP-coach's decision.' He was found to have stolen another student's laptop. He was also accused of cheating by putting his name on someone else's paper, then turning in a paper he found on the internet as his. How does someone put their name on someone else's paper? Newton apparently went into the professor's mailbox, stole another student's paper, and replaced the title page with his own information."
The electric player we saw in the national championship game was nothing like the player Maurino describes from his time as a Gator.
"I was out of school when Newton was in Gainesville, but from what I've heard, he did not leave much of an impression on people," Maurino says. "Aside from the kid he stole the laptop from and the kid whose term paper Newton tried to use as his own."
After his time at Florida, Newton spent a year at Blinn junior college. Our Auburn blogger, John Hicks, picks up the narrative there.
"Cam transferred to Blinn junior college in Texas, and from all accounts it was a humbling experience. Cam went from being a star in high school in Atlanta, and a quarterback at Florida, to the Texas countryside. The football team's first task at Blinn was to paint the stadium in the Texas heat. In my opinion, the year away from cameras and media attention transformed Cam. He worked at Blinn, becoming a more accurate passer, and carried them to the JUCO title."
After his year at Blinn, Newton was looking to get back into major college football. This is where the allegations of pay-for-play originated. Hicks explains:
"At first, Cam was set to re-join his old Florida offensive coordinator, Dan Mullen, at Mississippi State," Hicks said. "Then he abruptly changed course and signed with Auburn. Your skeptics will point to a pay-for-play bidding war. More objective folk will point to differences in the two programs. You had an MSU team loaded with young one and two star offensive personnel, or an Auburn squad with a veteran o-line with over a hundred starts, and a Top-5 in the nation recruiting class coming in. Which would be a better springboard for the pros?"
Continuing his defense of Newton's transfer to Auburn, Hicks wonders aloud why Newton would have been so hotly prized during this time.
"It's important to note that during the late 2009/early 2010 recruiting period, no one knew that Cam was going to go on to win the Heisman," Hicks points out. "He was an 'athlete' with potential, and only a bit of mop-up-time SEC experience. It wasn't even a given that he was going to start at Auburn."
And what a career he had at Auburn. Heisman Trophy, national championship, and a vault up the draft boards.
"Newton's career at Auburn can best be described as 'bottled lighting,'" opines Hicks. "We've never had an athlete this good in east Alabama, not even Bo Jackson or Charles Barkley. Newton stands alone. We didn't think much of him in his spring game, as he only hit three of eight passes, and didn't run. To be fair, the coaches had him throwing only on late, long yardage downs. The other two QBs were getting first down quick-screen or slant opportunities. I guess we started to take note when Newton sank a couple of long, precision TD bombs against Arkansas State, sandwiched around a 73-yard ad-lib sprint for a TD."
Newton seems to step up in big game after big game in the grueling SEC schedule and in the postseason.
"[Against South Carolina with Auburn down ] Cam pulled off that big scramble and Superman dive from the seven yard line where he landed two yards deep in the end zone," Hicks recalls. "Cam pulled off a 21-foot running broad jump in full pads! There was a tough road game in Kentucky where Cam scored four TDs on the ground in the first half, then carried the last 10 offensive plays of the game to set up the winning field goal. Cam went wild against Arkansas, and led Auburn to 65 points. Cam then rushed for over 200 against LSU's Top 5 defense. Against defending national champ Alabama, Cam led [Auburn] back from a 24-0 deficit. Newton turned in six touchdowns in the SEC title game, and shredded the South Carolina defense for over 400 yards. In the BCS title game, Cam may have looked mortal, throwing one pick and losing one critical fumble late. But even on a 'bad' day, his stats are impressive. Cam hit 20 of 34 passes for 265 yards, two scores and one pick. He added 82 rushing yards on 22 carries. That's 347 yards and two turnovers against a national title defense."
Hicks' favorite memory of Newton was at the SEC title game. I'll let him explain, because it's a pretty good story.
"For me, it was watching him live in the Georgia Dome, in the SEC Championship Game. I worked the graveyard shift the night before, drove to Atlanta on no sleep, and watched the game with friends, tanked up on Rock Star energy drinks," Hicks writes. "Newton hit the checkdown scores. He hit the bombs, including a miracle Hail Mary that went 60 yards in the air. He trucked over Gamecock defenders for two scores. The SEC title game has been played every year for the last 19 years, and no one has ever won it by 39 points before. Newton accounted for six scores, and only one turnover. That whole day was SURREAL!"
His lasting reputation at Auburn will be of a superstar and a great leader.
"He elevated the play of those around him, and those guys will continue to perform at a higher level thanks to playing with Newton," explains Hicks. "Cam takes an equal place with Auburn heroes Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson."
Off the field, Newton's reputation did a 180 from his time at Florida, where he was charged with several speeding tickets on top of the allegations leveled above.
"Cam kept his nose clean the entire time he was at Auburn," says Hicks. "There's no report of traffic incidents, or partying, or academic troubles. Cam was big on volunteering, at Wright's Mill elementary school, and at other venues. Cam has even done children's cancer ward-type trips since declaring for the NFL Draft. He's always been cheerful and engaging with folks in Auburn, and with the media, since signing with the Tigers. Here again, I think what happened is that Cam re-evaluated his life while he was at Blinn, and became a better person. It is said that when Cam came to Auburn on his official visit, he was more interested in poring over the roster and playbook than going to social events."
We know of the allegations leveled at Cam's father, Cecil Newton, in the pay-for-play scandal. I asked Hicks if Cam's older brother, Jacksonville Jaguars lineman Cecil Newton, Jr., was ever around to help his brother.
"We don't think so, but there was clearly a family member or two around Cam's mother in the SEC Title Game, and the BCS Championship," Hicks said.
Saying he wouldn't bet against Newton at the pro level, Hicks concluded his thoughts by restating his opinion that Newton has moved beyond his character problems when he was younger.
"The biggest thing I'd say is that any character issues seem to be behind him, left in the swamp of Gainesville or the plains of Texas," Hicks concludes. "The way he persevered on the field, and through a ton of controversy, was amazing. He won his coaches and teamates over, and I suspect he'll do the same in the NFL."
Well, that was thorough. If you've made it this far, join me in giving thanks to Michael and John for their in-depth look at Cam Newton's college career. Visit Alligator Army and Track 'Em Tigers for more on Newton, as well as Nick Fairley.