What if Auburn quarterback Cam Newton had stayed with Florida Gators?

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.

One player. One decision. And the future of a sport is rewritten.

That's how good Cam Newton was this season. That's how badly Florida could have used him.

It is not often you find a player with an impact that goes far beyond his own sideline, but Newton has the look of that rare exception.

He left Gainesville, which might be the single greatest reason the Gators had their worst showing in the Southeastern Conference in more than 20 years. He landed in the SEC West, which helped lead to the dethroning of defending national champion Alabama.

And he will be starting at quarterback for Auburn against Oregon on Monday night in a game that could bring the Tigers their first national championship in more than a half-century.

How would the college football world have been different if Cam Newton had never left Florida?

"That's a good question," Auburn running back Mario Fannin said. "You could go anywhere with that answer. But nowhere I want to go."

Instead, let's go back to 2007. To 2008. The legend of Tim Tebow was already gathering momentum. A Heisman Trophy in '07, a national championship in '08. And yet a quarterback behind Tebow on the depth chart might eventually be considered the greater talent.

As an 18-year-old true freshman, Newton was Superman's stand-in at Florida in 2007. He played in five games, ran for three touchdowns and appeared to have the early edge on John Brantley as Tebow's eventual successor.

The days that followed have been told and retold. There was trouble for Newton during a redshirt season in '08. A stolen laptop found in his possession. Accusations of cheating in some of his classes. Whispers of immaturity.

Tebow was still a star, and Brantley was becoming the more favored child. Suddenly, Newton was looking for a way out.

He landed at a junior college in Texas and won a national championship in his only season there. A year later, he is at Auburn and playing for another national championship. Including that redshirt season at Florida in '08, it would be Newton's third consecutive national title.

So how would the college football world have been different if Cam Newton had never left Florida?

"I know this," Auburn guard Byron Isom said. "Florida would have been a lot better off with that guy at quarterback."

For whatever reason, Brantley turned out to be a disappointment in Gainesville in 2010. He completed a high percentage of his passes but without much impact. The Gator offense was so sluggish, the team began using spare parts at quarterback to generate more of a running game. By the end of the season, Florida was routinely running three quarterbacks in and out of the huddle on a single offensive series.

What went wrong?

It could be that Florida's new offensive coordinator was not nearly as sharp as the old one. It could be that the level of talent surrounding Brantley was subpar. Or it could be that Florida's spread option offense was not built for a classic dropback passer such as Brantley.

No, it was meant to be run by a different type of quarterback.

The kind of quarterback now at Auburn.

So how would the college football world have been different if Cam Newton had never left Florida?

"I remember going on a recruiting trip to Florida, and he was already up there. I remember thinking how impressive he looked even back then," Auburn receiver and former Tampa Plant player Derek Winter said. "Now he's been voted the best college football player in America so, yeah, I would say he's changed things. Florida was going with the three guys, so I'm sure he would have made a difference there.

"That offense would have been a perfect fit for him at Florida."

What Newton did as a junior at Auburn in 2010 compares favorably with the season Tebow had as a sophomore at Florida in 2007. Tebow threw for more yards (3,286 to 2,589), but Newton ran for more (1,409 to 895). They joined the exclusive club of quarterbacks with at least 20 rushing and 20 passing touchdowns in the same season.

At the time, Tebow's season was considered one for the ages. ESPN analyst Lee Corso recently called Newton's season the greatest by any college quarterback in history.

"I learned so much under Tim Tebow because he just went about … living the lifestyle of somebody that everybody looks at. It doesn't detour him from who he really is," Newton said. "Just going out and doing what he does and being an impact on everybody who is watching him.

"I was very immature during my early career playing college football. I will be the first person to say I wasn't ready to play football at the time. And I was too naive to even think that way, but now I'm looking back at it. I wasn't ready to play football when I was at Florida."

From 2007 to 2008, the Gators had Tim Tebow and Cam Newton on their roster.

Two of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history.

It might have been the right place, it was just the wrong time.

What if Auburn quarterback Cam Newton had stayed with Florida Gators? 01/08/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 8, 2011 10:16pm]

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