Quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy as college football’s best player after leading undefeated Auburn University to a spot in the national championship game while facing a probe into recruiting violations.
Newton received 2,263 points, beating Stanford University quarterback Andrew Luck (1,079) by 184 points. University of Oregon running back LaMichael James (916) finished third and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore (635) was fourth.
“It’s something every child has a dream of who plays the sport of football,” Newton said. “I’m living testimony that anything is possible.”
Newton, a 21-year-old junior, accounted for 49 touchdowns for the 13-0 Tigers this season. He becomes the third Auburn player to win the Heisman in the award’s 76-year history, following quarterback Pat Sullivan in 1971 and running back Bo Jackson in 1985.
Newton received 729 first-place votes among the 886 ballots that were returned. His name didn’t appear on 105 ballots. Luck received 78 first-place votes.
O.J. Simpson had the biggest win in Heisman history in 1968, when the University of Southern California running back received 855 first-place votes and 2,853 points. Runner-up Purdue’s Leroy Keyes was first on 49 ballots and had 1,103 points. Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith had the second-biggest Heisman victory in 2006, when he finished with 801 first-place votes and 2,540 points.
Alabama running back Mark Ingram beat Stanford’s Toby Gerhart by 28 points last year in the award’s closest race.
In his first season at Auburn after winning a junior college title in Texas, Newton put the school in position to claim its first national championship since 1957.
Newton, who’s 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, completed 67 percent of his passes for 2,589 yards and 28 touchdowns, with six interceptions. He also ran for a team-leading 1,580 yards and his 20 rushing touchdowns broke the school record that had been shared by Jackson and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams. James finished with 22 rushing scores for Oregon this year, tied for the most at college football’s highest level.
Newton preserved Auburn’s undefeated season on Nov. 26 by rallying the Tigers from a 24-point deficit to beat defending national champion Alabama 28-27 on the road. He threw for three touchdowns and also ran for a score.
Less than a week later, the National Collegiate Athletic Association cleared Newton to play and ended questions about his eligibility after ruling he wasn’t aware of a pay-for-play demand organized by his father.
Newton selected Auburn over Southeastern Conference-rival Mississippi State. A former Mississippi State player, acting as a representative of Newton’s father, requested payments totaling $180,000 from the school to get the quarterback to play for the Bulldogs, ESPN reported.
Newton was a backup to former Heisman winner Tim Tebow at the University of Florida in 2007 and 2008 before transferring to Blinn College and winning a championship last year.
Newton wouldn’t comment last month on a Fox Sports report that he faced potential expulsion at Florida for three instances of academic cheating. Teammates, coaches and Auburn officials backed Newton, with Athletic Director Jay Jacobs saying that the allegations were intended to tear down their star quarterback’s reputation.
The accusations surrounding Newton emerged less than two months after ex-USC running back Reggie Bush became the first Heisman winner to relinquish or be stripped of the award. Bush forfeited the trophy after the NCAA said he was ineligible to play in 2005 because of rule violations.
Amid the off-field scrutiny, Newton led Auburn to a perfect regular season that was capped by a 56-17 rout of the University of South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference championship game. Newton solidified his status as the Heisman Trophy favorite in that game by throwing for a career-high 335 yards and four touchdowns while running for two more scores.
Newton will seek to follow Ingram as the second straight Heisman recipient to win a championship when Auburn faces Oregon for the national title on Jan. 10 in Glendale, Arizona.
Teams with the Heisman winner are 2-6 in the Bowl Championship Series title game since its inception in 1998.
The trophy is named in memory of former football coach John Heisman, who as director of New York’s Downtown Athletic Club helped create the award in 1935. Heisman died less than a year later from pneumonia.