We’re back with our MNC Wednesday miniseries analyzing Heisman Trophy history, and in 54 seasons overall so far now, we have confirmed just 17 winners—which is pretty ridiculous, overall. Again, we’re not picking rando players from small schools here; we’re just applying context, critical thinking, and logic to our selection process, and we’re standing by our choices … including this one, which is somewhat controversial thanks to the NCAA’s spineless administrative mantra. Enjoy?!

2010 Heisman Trophy winner: Cam Newton, QB, Auburn (original); LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (revised)

The Auburn Tigers posted a 13-0 record in winning the SEC, led by their Florida-transfer quarterback Cam Newton (4,369 total yards with 51 total touchdowns and 7 interceptions for a 182.0 QB rating). The Tigers played the No. 9 schedule in the country, and Newton won the Heisman vote by a country mile despite some serious controversy. Regardless, Auburn earned one of the slots for the BCS Championship Game, and on paper, his statistics seem rather mind blowing, even though he had a shady past.

(We have made it clear elsewhere that Newton should not have been eligible to play, in reading the NCAA’s own rules on which it reversed itself on just in time for Newton to play in the Iron Bowl and the SEC Championship Game in a blatant money grab. Either way, we may not even have to deal with this, so we shall see below. But this is foremost on our minds, for obvious reasons. He was of questionable character at Florida already, and this additional mess just compounded the disgrace. Unreal.)

As is usually the case, there are always other candidates to consider, and this is our final list of firmly vetted Heisman candidates for the 2010 Heisman Trophy, a list that is deep and relative diverse, for once:

  • Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: 3,791 total yards with 35 total TDs and 8 INTs for a 170.2 QB rating (No. 13 SOS)
  • LaMichael James, RB, Oregon: 1,937 total yards with 24 total TDs (No. 24 SOS)
  • Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State: 3,845 passing yards with 37 total TDs and 6 INTs for a 182.6 QB rating (No. 71 SOS)
  • Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: 1,859 total yards with 19 TDs (No. 43 SOS)
  • Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas: 3,869 passing yards with 36 total TDs and 12 INTs for a 163.6 QB rating (No. 14 SOS)

The Cardinal finished 11-1 to earn an Orange Bowl bid, the only loss being a blowout defeat to the Oregon Ducks, who claimed the other BCS title game slot. Luck also did not get investigated by the NCAA and his own school in the process. James led his team to the Pac-10 title, of course, and he also did not get investigated by the NCAA and his own school. Moore led his team to the No. 9 ranking, which relegated them to some no-name bowl, sadly, as the NCAA revealed its fear of the Broncos.

Even though Moore did not get investigated by the NCAA and his own school, that SOS is too weak to consider him here—even though he led the nation in passing efficiency. In fact, Moore, Newton, and Luck finished 1-2-3 there … impressive they all finished in the Top 4 of the vote, too, with Luck taking second and James finishing third. But we digress: Blackmon helped the Cowboys to a 10-2 record and an Alamo Bowl invite, but that SOS is also way below where it should be for this award.

Mallett got the Razorbacks to 10-2 as well, earning a Sugar Bowl invite. Most years he would be an excellent Heisman candidate, but his numbers fall short of Luck’s numbers, so he’s not going to be a factor here. Oh, did mention neither Blackmon or Mallett was investigated by the NCAA and their own school? Just checking … so, this comes down to Newton, Luck, and James, really, as three players who got their teams to Top 5 situation with outstanding play against quality opponents.

Here’s a good triangulation of supporting casts:

  • Auburn had three skill-position players who totaled 2,961 scrimmage yards and 22 TDs
  • Oregon’s primary QB had a 151.0 QB rating, and only one other teammate posted more than 672 scrimmage yards
  • Stanford had only two players post more than 455 scrimmage yards (one RB with 1,403 yards and one WR with 896 yards)

Like Tim Tebow in 2007, why was Newton calling his own number so much? Overcompensation? His yards-per-carry mark (5.6) was worse than two running backs (8.5 ypc and 6.0 ypc, respectively) who combined for 1,903 yards. Newton was a ball hog like Tebow was, and it wasn’t necessary against the opponents on Auburn’s schedule. He was the “worst” running option, basically, but called his own number 264 times still—while his better teammates only got 277 carries combined. That’s stat padding at its worst.

The Ducks QB was more than serviceable although hardly a star. But James was carrying the biggest burden on the Oregon team. The SOS is lower, however, than the more-elite schedules played by Newton and Luck. As for the Cardinal, it had a decent three-headed attack with a great RB and one solid WR. Otherwise, though, Luck was conducting the passing game by throwing to a lot of different receivers. That’s impressive, much more so than anything Newton did basically by calling his own number every time.

The Tigers didn’t have a 1,000-yard receiver, as this was obviously a team built around its offensive line and its running game. And Newton was the “worst” runner of the top three guys. That kind of “option” offense comes down to carries, and Newton gave himself the bulk of the carries. Why, when his teammates were “better”? Newton himself posted a very good QB rating, but that was dependent on the running game success, of which he was less than a third responsible. The Tigers were loaded, basically.

(The NCAA didn’t want to lose the revenue stream that came with Newton and the Auburn fan base, as the alternative was the South Carolina Gamecocks winning the SEC—and another team from another conference meeting Oregon in the BCS Championship Game … probably the Texas Christian Horned Frogs, who were ranked No. 3, or the Cardinal, ranked No. 4 at the time. Think about it—it was all about TV ratings for the NCAA, so it broke its own rules to keep Newton eligible. What a farce!)

In the end, we think James—despite the lower SOS, which is still a Top 25 schedule and should not be “penalized”—had the most to do with his team’s success. Without his legs, the Oregon QB probably has a lower QB rating, and the one other “decent” skill position player on the Ducks, WR Jeff Maehl, managed just 1,075 scrimmage yards. James was the engine that made this offense click to its undefeated regular season, and he did it without the kind of help Newton had at Auburn—and without cheating, too.

Congratulations to LaMichael James, the real Heisman Trophy winner for 2010.