As we continue our march to kickoff, we take a look at the top 100 recruits to sign with Auburn of all-time*. The rankings are based on 247’s composite recruit rankings, which unfortunately only date back to 2000.
Jason Campbell was one of the first big recruits that I remember as an Auburn fan. Yeah, I watched games and cared and lived and died when crazy stuff happened in the 1990s but that was limited to Saturdays. Only when I got to be a young adult did I realize that there was an entire new realm of football to consume. AU Nerd obviously figured it out earlier than most, but recruiting was a way to follow football YEAR ROUND.
Anyway, I remember hearing about this guy. Jason Campbell. He was tall? And mobile? And could slang it? Yeah, sign me up. After the last couple of years of quarterbacking with Gabe Gross (great baseball player, not great quarterback), Jeff Klein (uhhhhh), and Ben Leard (actually pretty good, but just not great), the prospect of Jason Campbell was really refreshing.
It took quite some time for Jason Campbell to find his footing at Auburn. After redshirting in 2000 and watching Auburn go to the SEC Championship, Campbell got his chance to play as a freshman in 2001.
His first couple of games were really good, and very odd for Tommy Tuberville offenses when you look back. He let a freshman quarterback throw the ball 28 times in the season opener against Ball State. Game three was not great, as Dwight Freeney found a way to toss Jason Campbell around the Carrier Dome in the first game after 9/11. Nobody was pulling for Auburn and everyone reveled in our destruction to the Orangemen (as they were at the time).
JCam played pretty well over the next couple of weeks, but when top-ranked Florida came to town, he struggled against the Gators, going just 2-4 for 8 yards. Daniel Cobb came in and the defense carried the Tigers in a huge upset in the wind at home. A week later, Cobb started against Louisiana Tech and threw for 381 yards, 5 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and Auburn escaped in overtime. Cobb’s luck ran out as Arkansas blasted Auburn after that, and aside from a Cadillac-fueled win over Georgia, Cobb didn’t do anything and the Tigers stumbled down the stretch.
2002 started with Daniel Cobb under center again, and Auburn lost the opener to USC. Campbell played sparingly over the first few weeks of the season, taking over for Cobb in a revenge win over Syracuse in double overtime, but he still didn’t get the start after that. Later on he came in against Florida and and teamed up with Ronnie Brown to nearly steal us a comeback win in Gainesville (THANKS DAMON DUVAL).
Finally — finally — in the home game against LSU the following week, Campbell took hold and control of the team. With Ronnie Brown taking over for Cadillac in the running game, JCam was able to work his way into a very reliable quarterback over the last few games of the year. Wins over Ole Miss (and Eli Manning), Alabama, and Penn State ended up on the slate, and he nearly had a perfect finish to the year (if only the refs would’ve called that Michael Johnson push-off on Horace Willis). In the Iron Bowl, Auburn’s only touchdowns came on Campbell touchdown passes, and his arm kept the Tide defense off balance from the start.
As his sophomore year came to a close, Auburn was poised for big things in 2003. With two years of experience under his belt, Campbell would have no trouble running the show and making sure that the high expectations were met on the Plains.
Somebody decided that it would be a good idea to promote two non-coordinators to run Bobby Petrino’s offense. Let me tell you, it’s not a super easy offense to run, and Campbell had to deal with the Nallsminger experiment making it tougher. Auburn scored 3 points in the first two games of 2003, and the offense never really picked up despite having both Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown healthy and ready to go.
Enter low expectations for Campbell’s senior year, as well as a new offensive coordinator.
Al Borges was JCam’s fourth coach in four years. That alone would never be easy on anyone, but here was a guy fighting for his place in the hearts of the Auburn family. In the opener against Louisiana-Monroe in 2004, Campbell threw an interception — and got booed. The next week he threw 3 touchdown passes for the first time in his entire career, and after that it was his arm that led the game-winning drive against defending national champion LSU.
Two weeks later, Auburn rolled into Knoxville and destroyed a top ten Tennessee team. Campbell led an offense that posted 31 first half points in the domination.
The next week he completed the longest play from scrimmage in Auburn history (an 87-yard touchdown to Silas Daniels), and then threw more touchdowns than incompletions in an evisceration of Arkansas.
Campell went 17-19 for 297 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Hogs, Auburn improved to 7-0, and over the final stretch of the season, he commanded the offense to an undefeated season. His completion percentages in 2004? Starting with the Tennessee game, when everything started to click, they looked like this:
69.6% vs Tennessee
72.2% vs La Tech
89.5% vs Arkansas
73.3% vs Kentucky
50% vs Ole Miss
81.8% vs Georgia
75% vs Alabama
77.1% vs Tennessee
68.8% vs Virginia Tech
In the SEC Championship, he went bananas, throwing for 374 yards and 3 scores, setting records and winning the MVP trophy.
After that he was named SEC Player of the Year. The redemption arc was real for the kid who’d struggled so much his first couple of seasons, and even received boos earlier in 2004. He improved his stock so much that he turned into a first round draft pick, one of four for the Tigers in the 2005 NFL Draft.
Over a journeyman NFL career, Jason Campbell spent time with the Redskins, Raiders, Bears, Browns, and Bengals, and threw for more than 16,000 yards in his career with 87 touchdowns.