QB continues to be matchup’s focus
By ANDY BITTER
ATLANTA -- The NCAA’s ruling this week left no doubt that Cam Newton will start at quarterback for Auburn in today’s SEC championship game against South Carolina.
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Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier, in the spirit of competition, is happy that’s the case.
“We’re glad he’s playing,” Spurrier said. “He’s played all year. It wouldn’t have been right to not play when the championship’s on the line.”
No. 1 Auburn (12-0) and No. 19 South Carolina (9-3) had walkthroughs Friday in the Georgia Dome, where they will meet today at 4 p.m. in a title game matchup few predicted at the beginning of the season.
The Tigers can claim a berth in the Bowl Championship Series national title game with a win, a position they are in largely because of Newton, the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy.
Although his name has been in the center of a recruiting controversy in the past month, Newton’s eligibility was reaffirmed by the NCAA on Wednesday after it determined he had no knowledge his father, Cecil, broke NCAA rules by engaging in pay-for-play talks with Mississippi State last year.
“We’re glad that the NCAA was in agreement with us that Auburn University and Cameron Newton have done nothing wrong,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
Chizik stuck with his policy of not answering questions about Newton’s situation, getting his comment out of the way at the beginning of the press conference.
“Cameron will be our starting quarterback tomorrow, as he has the previous 12 weeks,” he said. “And I think that’s pretty self-explanatory and will answer most of the questions you may have had.”
Chizik did address a question about how Newton has been instrumental in Auburn’s ability to come back from so many deficits this year, saying the quarterback is among the team members players look to in times of crisis, along with the coaches and seniors.
“I think Cam has been a tremendous leader for our football team,” Chizik said. “And I think our football team sees that. He’s just an unbelievable competitor.”
Spurrier, who has guided South Carolina to the SEC title game for the first time in its history, said he would prefer to play an opponent when it is at full strength.
“I remember (Penn State coach) Joe Paterno one time said: You want to beat the other team when all their best players are playing,” Spurrier said. “I’m glad (Newton) is playing. He deserves to play. And we haven’t even thought about the other stuff.”
As a former Heisman Trophy winner, Spurrier has a vote, prompting one reporter to ask who will be on his ballot.
“We don’t have to reveal those like the coaches poll,” Spurrier said. “But I think I’ve already said that Cam Newton will certainly get one of my votes. You get three. I’ll keep secretive what order they’re in, OK? It’s a secret vote.”
Spurrier did make his feelings known about Newton’s chances, though: “I think he deserves the Heisman, no question.”