No. 1 was a no-brainer, especially after the NCAA declared Newton eligible. He's the nation's leading passer, the SEC's leading rusher and led his team to wins over six ranked opponents. It's a shame Blackmon hasn't garnered more attention, because he's had a season on par with the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree, notching an astounding 102 catches for 1,665 yards and 18 touchdowns. The No. 3 spot was a virtual toss-up for me between Luck and Boise State's Kellen Moore. They have eerily similar statistics, but Luck did it against a tougher schedule and did more on the ground.
Some voters have left the nation's best player off their ballot completely, citing character concerns because of a 2008 arrest and the alleged pay-for-play scheme that has dominated headlines. My take? Anyone who leaves Newton off his ballot and includes James is a hypocrite. If you're going to vote for one player with an arrest record who was the subject of an NCAA extra-benefits investigation during the 2010 season, you may as well include
I'm not an NCAA gumshoe, and I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. The NCAA ruled Newton eligible, which makes my job as a Heisman voter very easy. Easier than it's been in the 22 years I've had a vote, in fact. Newton started strong and finished stronger, pulling away from the field like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. In this race, there's the Auburn quarterback, and then there's the jayvee. The tawdry backdrop of pay-for-play allegations has resulted in an
The ballot says to vote for "the most outstanding player." From that end, Newton is the only choice. The pay-for-play scandal has been a dark cloud hanging over this vote, and we're just months removed from Reggie Bush vacating his trophy. But I never batted an eye about voting for the player who delivered 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns in the same season, which is a testament to his dominance. If this were not the Year of Newton, Luck may well have been my pick. He took a Cardinal team playing without last season's Heisman runner-up and led it to an 11-1 record and Orange Bowl berth while throwing for a school-record 28 touchdowns. It's the ability to carry his team that led me to put Luck ahead of James, who built on his sensational freshman season by leading the nation in rushing yards, yards per game and points per game despite being suspended for the opener.
Newton left us with only two questions this season: What will his Heisman-winning margin be? And will he keep the trophy? He has been so good, the comparisons aren't with the other Heisman finalists, but rather the greatest players ever (how quickly we forget Tim Tebow, the last greatest ever, and others before him, but still). Off the field, well ... what's to say? Newton's father admits shopping him to Mississippi State. The NCAA somehow decided a weekday of ineligibility should be followed by reinstatement. And the reasonable suspicion is that we still don't have the full story. We might never. While we don't, while all we have to consider is what happened on the field -- there's no other choice.
I admit it. When I submitted my final ballot with Newton as my No. 1 choice, I did so with an uneasy feeling. While Newton's on-field superiority this season was impossible to deny, the off-field allegations involving his father gave me pause; no one wants a second vacated trophy collecting dust. But I voted based on the information available: Newton is eligible. Attempting to project what could happen months or years from now would have meant doing the player and the Heisman a disservice. (I hope any voter invoking the "integrity" clause as an excuse not to vote for Newton did a thorough background check on each of the players for whom he or she voted.) Aside from Newton, no player fit my Heisman voting criteria (season-long excellence and performance in big games and against top competition) better than Blackmon, who was unfairly left out of the Heisman discussion this season. Not only did this freakishly athletic receiver dominate every week, he also ripped up the NFL-bound corners on his schedule (157 yards and two scores against Nebraska; 145 yards and one TD against Texas). The toughest call was James over Boise State's Moore and Stanford's Luck. But like Newton and Blackmon, the Oregon running back was a season-long sensation, and his 257-yard, three-touchdown performance against what wound up being the No. 4 team in the nation was one of the year's grand highlights.
There are only two choices regarding Newton: vote him first or leave him off the ballot entirely. On the field, his credentials were obvious. He was the driving force on an undefeated team, and he was equally dangerous running or throwing. The only way to justify not choosing him is if you believe he should be ineligible, regardless of the NCAA's ruling. Voters have every right to draw their own conclusions. For me, he's an eligible player and therefore worthy of my vote. But I would be neither surprised nor dismayed if at some future date he is stripped of the award. It's Luck's bad luck that Newton's performance was otherworldly, because in most other seasons the Stanford quarterback would have been Heisman-worthy. Luck posted great stats, but he was also deadly accurate, surprisingly physical (just ask the USC and Cal defensive backs he flattened with big hits) and never seemed to make a bad decision on a throw. His season was an instructional video on how to play quarterback in a pro-style offense. James' candidacy suffered from Oregon's system, which created so many big plays for so many players that it was hard for James to always stand out. That's not to say James wasn't spectacular; he was. He simply wasn't asked to carry his team to the same degree as the two quarterbacks above him on my ballot, which is why Luck edged him out for the second spot.
This might have been the easiest Heisman ballot I've filled out since Tebow won in 2007. There was just no denying that Newton was the best player in college football this year. Once the NCAA had answered the question of his eligibility -- if only for the moment -- there was nothing left for me to consider. If the NCAA
Midway through the season it became apparent that everyone else was playing for second. And when the NCAA removed the dark cloud from over Auburn and Newton, it was over. While the biggest intrigue in Saturday's ceremony will be what Newton does or doesn't say, the race for second and third will be an interesting sideshow. The way I look at it there are three players -- James, Moore and Stanford's Luck -- battling for two spots. I chose James second because he's the most dominant running back in the nation. I gave Moore the slight edge over Luck because he did a little more with a little less.
Hard as it is to believe that he had no idea his father was shopping his services, Newton deserves the benefit of the doubt. Newton was far and away the most outstanding college football player in the land in 2010. Exclude him, and the Heisman would have been quite the race.