Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton celebrating with fans after a 24-17 win over LSU at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. (AP File Photo/Dave Martin, File)
Georgia went 6-5 during the 1979 football season, losing at home to Virginia and Wake Forest, and things weren’t looking much better in the 1980 opener.
Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs trailed 15-0 at Tennessee before freshman tailback Herschel Walker scored two touchdowns to help Georgia prevail 16-15. Walker would go on to set an NCAA freshman record with 1,616 rushing yards, and the Bulldogs went on to win the national championship with a 12-0 mark.
Walker’s impact was the greatest Dooley ever had witnessed until he turned on the television this season and watched the wizardry of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton.
“I would have to say that Cam Newton is the best one-season football player I’ve ever seen,” the 78-year-old Dooley said. “If Herschel had gotten the ball as many times as Cam Newton, he certainly could have been, and we tried to give it to him as many times as possible. Unfortunately, we couldn’t snap it to him every time like they can with Cam Newton.”
Newton is the overwhelming favorite to be awarded the Heisman Trophy this Saturday night in New York after leading the Tigers to a 13-0 record and a No. 1 ranking. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior is the first player in SEC history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season, this just a year after he suited up for Blinn College in Brenham, Texas.
In Auburn’s 56-17 win over South Carolina last Saturday at the SEC championship game, Newton threw for a career-best 335 yards and accounted for six touchdowns.
“He can’t get too big of a head with one game left, but I can say he’s probably the best football player I’ve ever seen,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said after the game, finally deviating from his weekly “We’re pleased with Cam’s progress” assessment.
Newton will head to the BCS title game against Oregon on Jan. 10 as the nation’s leading passer in terms of efficiency. He has completed 165 of 246 passes (67.1 percent) for 2,589 yards with 28 touchdowns and six interceptions, and 11.4 percent of his passes have been for scores.
He also is the nation’s No. 15 rusher, amassing 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns on 242 carries for averages of 108.4 yards per game and 5.8 per carry.
“Cam Newton is such a fluid player,” Dooley said. “South Carolina was about to get back in the game, but he put them out right before the half by his ability to roll and escape and wait the right amount of time to throw it down the field.
“Then he runs over that guy at the 2-yard line in the third quarter. He gets under his shoulder. How can he get that low at 6-6? He has just looked like a player from another planet.”
Dooley considers Walker the greatest running back ever to play the game. Walker compiled 5,259 rushing yards during his three seasons in Athens, which remains an NCAA three-year mark, and won the Heisman in 1982.
The Bulldogs were 32-1 in regular-season games and 18-0 in SEC contests with Walker, whose average of 159.4 yards per game dwarfs the SEC career runner-up, Florida’s Emmitt Smith at 126.7.
“There is a similarity, because Herschel and Cam joined teams that were pretty solid when they got there,” Dooley said. “In both cases they were the missing link to the puzzle that led to the championship.”
Georgia had 15 senior starters in 1980, as well as prominent juniors such as quarterback Buck Belue, receiver Lindsay Scott and defensive lineman Eddie “Meat Cleaver” Weaver. Auburn has 14 senior starters this season and notable juniors such as receiver Darvin Adams, tackle Brandon Mosley and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
This time last year, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was being compared to Walker as the greatest player in league history. Tebow set an SEC record with 55 touchdowns in his 2007 run to the Heisman and played on two national championship teams, and he will have competed in more games than Walker and Newton combined should Newton skip his senior season.
Dooley said history will reflect that Newton was the greatest one-season player in the history of college football, but he still considers Charley Trippi the best overall player. Trippi rushed for 130 yards in Georgia’s 1943 Rose Bowl victory over UCLA and after World War II returned to lead the ’46 Bulldogs to an 11-0 season while finishing as the Heisman runner-up.
“He not only could do what Cam Newton does, running the ball and throwing the ball, but he kicked and played defense and returned punts,” Dooley said. “Charley Trippi was a single-wing tailback, so he got the snap. He was one of the greatest defensive backs that has ever been. He did it all.”
All, that is, except show up from another planet.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...