This post is sponsored by EA Sports, who asked us to write about the Heisman winner we would most prefer to have on our team. (I should note that I thought about this in terms of having that player at USC in the year he won the Heisman, but I guess one could imagine having the player in any given year.) I didn't have to think too long about this. This will probably sound like blasphemy to some of you, but I immediately thought of Cam Newton. This is to say nothing about whether I would have liked to have gone through the drama and allegations that would have gone along with having Newton at USC. I wouldn't, if you must know. However, from a purely personnel standpoint, no other player could have made as big of a difference for the Gamecocks.
Since Newton was a recent winner, it won't be hard to think back to the year he won the trophy, particularly considering that we played the guy twice. It's not hard to imagine that the Gamecocks could have won the national title that year if we had had Newton. He would have given us a huge upgrade at the QB position. Stephen Garcia had his best year in 2010, throwing for 3059 yards and a 148.7 rating and running for 222 yards. That was a monumental season for Garcia and one of the best in history for Gamecocks quarterbacks. That said, considering that we had Marcus Lattimore, Alshon Jeffery, and a solid offensive line in 2010, it's reasonable to say that Garcia was the weak link in that year's offense. Other than in the Alabama game, he was never a QB of the caliber of Newton, who threw for 2854 yards, had an unbelievable 182 rating, and ran for 1473 yards. Think of the difference this would have made the Gamecocks. Unlike Garcia, Newton never had down games. We easily beat Kentucky and Florida St. with him on the roster. We also don't have too much trouble with Auburn themselves. Remember, without Newton, Auburn has to go with another QB, likely Barrett Trotter. At best, that probably means another 8-5 season for Chizik's Tigers. Newton made an absolutely huge difference for Auburn, who was a good-ish team at best without him and a 14-0 national champion with him. We get that benefit and Auburn doesn't if we have Newton, meaning we don't have any trouble with the Tigers. The only game we played that I'm not sure Newton could have won for us is the Arkansas game. However, even though he couldn't have helped us keep Arkansas from scoring at will against us, having Newton might have allowed us to beat the Hogs in a shootout, much like Auburn did when it played Arkansas in 2010.
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It should be noted that we would likely have played either Alabama, Arkansas, or LSU in the SECCG if we had had Newton, as Auburn likely wouldn't have beaten any of those teams. The thought of working out the counterfactuals of which of those three teams makes it (they beat each other and might have ended up in a complicated three-way tie in a Newton-at-Carolina-and-not-Auburn reality) this late at night makes my head hurt, but considering how much Newton helped Auburn against these three teams, you have to imagine he would have had us right in it with them, even if we were playing Alabama or Arkansas a second time, although I will say that the thought of playing Saban twice in one season sounds challenging after watching him adjust his gameplan in the second go-around against LSU.
Is Newton the best player to ever play the game? Likely not, although I do think he's much better than many want to give him credit for. I oftentimes think of Heisman winners in two groups--those who defined their team and made a huge impact on the team's fortunes, and those who racked up impressive statistics because they were on great teams. Of the recent winners, Mark Ingram (great back, but not clearly a huge difference-maker) is a good example of the latter, Newton of the former. That said, of course there are other players who were great Heisman winners over the years. However, they likely wouldn't have had the kind of effect on our season that Newton would have had, had he been a Gamecock. Remember, another factor here is that we were good in 2010. We won nine games and played in the SEC Championship game. That's one of our best-ever results. Most other Heisman winners wouldn't have made a big difference for us because we didn't have good teams the year they won it. Could Ricky Williams have kept Carolina from being awful in 1998? Probably not. Bo Jackson in '85? Probably not. Think Tebow could have stopped McFadden and Jones in 2007? Nope. Two guys who jumped out at me who might have made a big difference are Robert Griffin III and Barry Sanders. Both took home the trophy in years when we were solid, and both were truly great players who played at positions of relative need for us. However, the '88 team was still a four-loss group that lost a couple of games by large margins, so even Sanders likely wouldn't have made it a national contender. Griffin almost certainly gets us back to Atlanta last year, but something tells me that even he would have had trouble trying to find time to throw behind our offensive line against LSU. Newton seems like the guy most likely out of the three to win us a national title, and that's why I picked him.
So, now that you have my take, let's open this up to discussion: Which Heisman winner would you most have liked to have on the team? As you saw, I chose based on which player would have gotten us closest to the national title the year he won it, but you can play by different rules, if you wish.
Like I said, this post was sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 13. Check out the video for the game below.
EA SPORTS NCAA Football 13 TV: "Son" (via EASPORTS)