College Football Overtime (cont.)
When the bombshell broke last Thursday evening that the NCAA is investigating the recruitment of Heisman frontrunner Cam Newton, an inevitable 24-hour frenzy followed, with over-the-top columnists disparaging the Auburn quarterback and his family (who have not yet been publicly accused of any wrongdoing), conspiracy theorists carelessly speculating as to who tipped off the media (question: Does it matter?) and Heisman voters (myself included) trying to come to grips with the ramifications.
Following a weekend of football and enough time for folks to catch their breath, it seems abundantly clear, to me at least, that for now there are no ramifications whatsoever.
Admittedly, you'd have to be pretty naïve to believe nothing tawdry went down and that former Mississippi State quarterback John Bond's story of a former teammate-turned-rogue agent soliciting cash for Newton's signature doesn't have legs to it. The NCAA doesn't ask a player's parent for bank records without a good reason. Both ESPN's and The New York Times' stories of the investigation were airtight in their reporting, despite all the various parties' denials since. (What did you expect them to say?)
But neither story implicated Auburn in the slightest. The school maintains Newton's eligibility is unaffected, and a source told the AP that Auburn has not received a letter of inquiry. Mind you, these things can take months, if not years, to come to a resolution. In the meantime ... there's really nothing to see here.
Newton threw for a career-high 317 yards and four touchdowns in one half of work against FCS foe Chattanooga on Saturday. Afterward, he discussed the allegations for the first time, at least as much as he could. (Involved parties are not allowed to discuss a pending NCAA investigation.)
"I haven't done anything wrong," Newton said. "I'm an Auburn athlete, and I'm still playing for Auburn. I love Auburn, and that's all I've got to say." That wasn't all he had to say. He added: "God has blessed me right now ... When God be blessin', the Devil be messin'."
I'm not going to preach to the 920-plus Heisman voters about how to do their jobs. I can only say how I view mine: It's not my job to prophesize the eventual results of an NCAA investigation to which I'm not privy. Nor is it my problem that a recent Heisman winner had to forfeit his trophy because of extra-benefits violations. That will have no bearing on my vote.
The ballot tells us to vote for the nation's Most Outstanding Player, and specifies that he "must be in compliance with the bylaws defining an NCAA student athlete." As of today, there's been no evidence or suggestion otherwise regarding Newton's status. Unless that changes in the next month, my decision will be based solely on what he does on the field.
Mini-previews for three of this week's big games:
(NOTE: There really aren't any "big" games this week.)
Georgia at Auburn, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): In his eighth and final home game of the season, Cam Newton will look to give the adoring faithful yet another thing they haven't seen. I'm thinking cartwheels. Meanwhile, Dawgs star A.J. Green has already said Georgia plans to "shock a lot of people" Saturday. It's on.
Penn State at Ohio State, Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET): You won't find too many splotches on Jim Tressel's résumé, but for some reason, he's 2-4 in games coming off bye weeks. Something tells me this one will work out fine, especially with star linebacker Ross Homan returning from injury.
South Carolina at Florida, Saturday (7:15 p.m. ET): So it's come to this. For the Old Ball Coach to finally put a stamp on his South Carolina tenure, he needs to win on the road at a stadium where he once won every week. He'll also need a healthy Marcus Lattimore and a steady hand from Stephen Garcia.