AUBURN, Ala. -- Gene Chizik bristled Monday when asked about Auburn quarterback Cam Newton’s status heading into the Iron Bowl, resorting to a stock answer that’s become a common refrain the last two weeks.
“I’m not talking about Cameron Newton unless it has something to do with the first 11 games and his performance in those games,” he said.
It’s the norm at Auburn these days. The Tigers have played things close to the vest with Newton since allegations first arose 2½ weeks ago that the quarterback’s father engaged in talks about a pay-for-play plan with Mississippi State during his son’s recruitment last year.
There was no news in the saga Monday, the fourth straight day without a development -- an eternity in a story that has evolved rapidly over the course of half a month.
Auburn has not been specifically accused on wrongdoing, and Newton, whose family lawyer said both Cam and his parents met with NCAA investigators prior to the Georgia game, has remained eligible throughout the process.
But it’s a touchy subject on the Plains, where the No. 2 Tigers (11-0, 7-0 SEC) are preparing for rival Alabama, putting their national title hopes on the line.
Even an innocuous question posed about Newton’s preparation for the Iron Bowl prompted Chizik to go into a defensive stance. He went out of his way to say he would only talk about the quarterback’s first 11 games when no such disclaimer was necessary.
Newton, a regular at press conferences throughout the season, has been off limits to the media since Nov. 9, the Tuesday prior to the Georgia game, despite repeated interview requests.
Newton’s teammates haven’t dodged questions about him, saying the distractions haven’t affected their quarterback in his preparation for Alabama.
“I’m more proud of him for how he’s been handling everything off the field,” tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said.
“I don’t know what that kid’s going through. He’s just done a good job of maintaining it.
“He’s handling it just like another week of football, and not letting anything from the outside get into his head. He’s a strong kid, strong Christian, a real good believer. He’s just turned to the Lord a lot through all this and the truth will set you free.”
“Cam’s always going to be Cam,” wide receiver Emory Blake said. “He hasn’t changed at all to me.”
The rumors haven’t affected Newton’s play. The junior is up to 2,038 passing yards and an SEC-leading 1,297 rushing yards. His 39 touchdowns accounted for ranks second nationally and is more than 62 of the other 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams have scored this season.
As a result, he was named a finalist for two national awards Monday -- the Maxwell (outstanding player) and Davey O’Brien (top quarterback).
Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Stanford’s Andrew Luck are Newton’s competition for both. Moore has a 188.8 passer rating and 28 touchdown passes. Luck leads the Pac-10 in total offense and has thrown for 2,745 yards to go with 445 rushing yards.
While Chizik would not comment on Newton’s off-the-field situation, he didn’t hesitate to trumpet his star quarterback’s development on the field.
“That’s a dream for a coach to watch a kid continue to improve and become not just a great player within your football team and obviously within the offense, but take on the leadership role,” Chizik said. “He has just gotten better in so many ways.”