A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Reflecting on Cam Newton; Remembering Barry Sanders

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As you might imagine with my insistence on talking about Player of the Year instead of MVP when looking at the NBA, I don’t like to take stock on what athletes accomplish until season’s end.  So I held off really evaluating Cam Newton‘s accomplishments until after the National Championship.  That game came and went, and I started putting Newton up against the guy who I consider college football’s gold standard in recent years, Vince Young.

Cam Newton vs Vince Young

Briefly, Newton’s got the bigger stats over all, but part of that is simply a decision by Auburn to focus more around Newton than Texas did with Young.  This increased focus around one running quarterback is part of a general trend, and why I’ve previously said it’s unreasonable to expect a typical star running back to match the impact of someone like Newton.  If you go back and look at the numbers for the Tommie Fraziers and Michael Vicks of the world, it’s amusing to look at how small they are compared to the Newtons, Youngs, and Tim Tebows.

Auburn was more reliant on Newton than Texas on Young, but Texas’ dominance was significantly greater.  Auburn was really quite lucky to go undefeated, Texas was not.  Given that, and Young’s two amazing bowl performances, I still lean toward Young as the more accomplished college player.

What these comparisons really got me thinking about though was Barry Sanders at Oklahoma State.  Hopefully those who saw my previous rant about the relative impotence of running backs in college football knew that Sanders is in his own category.  Still, the more I think about Sanders, the more his superiority over EVERYONE, quarterbacks included, is glaring.

Barry Sanders, Greatest of All Time

Let’s start with the basics.  We’ve had two Heisman winning running backs in the past decade Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram.  If we combined their respective Heisman season accomplishments into one super season we’d have someone who rushed for 252 yards per game and scored 2.9 touchdowns per game.  In 1988, Barry Sanders rushed for 238 yards per game and scored 3.7 touchdowns per game.  So just there you can make a great case that Barry Sanders’ season was better than the best 2 seasons of the last decade put together.

You start comparing Sanders to quarterback stats and it gets even more staggering.  No one expects running backs to match quarterbacks’ stats partly because a quarterback’s passing accomplishments are inherently shared with the receivers they pass to.    However even without factoring that bias in, Sanders 3.7 touchdowns per game (44 total touchdowns), surpasses the touchdowns that Newton and Young were respectively associated with in their big years.  That is, passing and rushing touchdowns for Newton only puts him at 3.6 touchdowns per game, and Young’s only at 2.9.

Finally, when you look at offensive success of Barry Sanders’ Oklahoma State team, it’s mind blowing.  In Sanders big year, the Cowboys scored 48.7 points per game, almost 7 points per game better than any other team in the country, and only 1 other team in their conference scored over 30 points per game.  The next year, the Cowboys scored only 20.5 points per game, 72nd out of 106 among Division 1 teams.  They team’s record dropped from 10-2 to 4-7, despite no noticeable falloff in the team’s defense.

Obviously football is a team game, it’s overly simplistic to say that Sanders alone was responsible for the difference between the two seasons.  However, a 4 touchdown falloff is unreal.  I don’t have the ability to view the greatest falloff’s in college football history, but that fall dwarfs the falloff we typically see after star players leave.  Texas’ scoring dropped by about 2 touchdowns when Young left.  Tim Tebow‘s Gators dropped by 6 points.  When USC lost their super trio of Bush, Matt Leinart, and Lendale White, the team’s offense still only dropped by 18.6 points.

Makes it pretty comical how people said about Bush “He is Barry Sanders coming out of college.  For that matter as someone who watched Sanders in college, I’m telling you that Bush is better than Sanders was at that point in his career.”, doesn’t it?  Barry was the greatest, and I really don’t know if we’ll ever see someone worthy of even being in the debate with him.

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Written by Matt Johnson

January 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm

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