Newton leads Heisman contenders
One look at the four finalists for the 2010 Heisman Trophy shows that the only element missing from this year's race is suspense. That went out the door two weeks ago, when the NCAA reinstated the eligibility of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The junior is an overwhelming favorite to win college football's most prestigious award.
Newton, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore and Oregon tailback LaMichael James are unusual, and not merely because none of them is a senior. Each represents a prototype of a different style of offensive player.
Newton must be the prototype of the quarterback of the future because there has never been anyone like him, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound player who not only can make defenders miss in the open field but also can stand in the pocket and hit a receiver downfield on a string. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and is 15th in rushing. He has run for 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns and has thrown for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns.
"I think he's the greatest one-year quarterback that I've seen in college football," said former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who played, coached or served as an administrator in the Southeastern Conference for more than 50 years before he retired in 2004.
The controversy surrounding Newton's eligibility threatened to overshadow Newton's play. He fueled the Tigers' rise from the middle of the SEC West to a 13-0 record and a berth in the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game.
Luck is the prototype of what the modern quarterback should be. He is big (6-4, 235 pounds) and mobile and powerful and accurate and smart and humble and exactly what NFL teams desire, even if they might have to desire him for another year.
Luck is seventh in the nation in passing efficiency. He threw for 3,051 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. As Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh pointed out, Luck didn't bulk up his numbers on the empty calories of passes in the flat and bubble screens. Stanford has a vertical passing game. He is also technically efficient for a player his age.
As a third-year sophomore, Luck is eligible for the 2011 NFL draft. Between Luck's academic career, the uncertainty of the NFL labor negotiations and how much fun he is having, though, it's very easy to project him as the Stanford starter -- and a Heisman winner -- in 2011.
Moore is the prototype of the underdog who continues to prove everyone wrong. Moore, from Prosser, Wash., is 6-foot even, too short for the Pac-10 schools that chose not to sign him (though it is tall enough for the New Orleans Saints).
Broncos coach Chris Petersen saw something in Moore. He saw a coach's son, a leader, a student of the game and a perfectionist. Moore is not the Type-A sort who bristles with efficiency. He is small-town easygoing, a smile never far away. But he is a perfectionist in the sense that he simply doesn't make false moves.
Moore knows where to throw the ball and how to throw it. He puts it right where the receiver can catch it and the defensive back can't. He finished second in the nation in passing efficiency, completing 71 percent of his throws for 3,506 yards, 33 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
James is the prototype of the spread tailback, where quickness and speed trump height and weight. Five-foot-9, 180-pound James leads the nation in rushing. The NCAA measures that by yards per game (152.9). But James also leads the nation with a total of 1,682 yards and 21 touchdowns despite being suspended for the opener by Ducks coach Chip Kelly because of an offseason incident.
After that detour, however, James rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of the remaining 11 games. He came up big against the Ducks' biggest opponents: 257 yards and three touchdowns against Stanford, 239 yards and three touchdowns against USC.
James needs only 41 yards against Auburn in the BCS Championship Game to have the best rushing season in Oregon history. No matter how James fares against Auburn, he already has made history. He is the university's second Heisman finalist and will be the second Duck to finish among the top four vote-getters in the 76 years of the voting.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.