Nothing but sunshine at Auburn

Don’t worry, everything’s fine at Auburn.

At least that’s what Tigers coach Gene Chizik wants you to believe in the wake of ESPN.com’s report Thursday that a man who claimed to represent his star junior quarterback Cameron Newton allegedly sought $180,000 for him while he was being recruited by Mississippi State.

Newton has denied any wrongdoing and the NCAA is investigating — Newton’s father has turned over his financial records — but Chizik said he regretfully couldn’t talk about the situation after his second-ranked team’s 62-24 rout of overmatched Chattanooga on Saturday. Instead, he emphasized defiantly what’s obviously most important: that Newton, his one-man team, is eligible to play.

“That’s where we are going to let it lie,” Chizik said.

But there’s more to it than that. See, there’s this thing called perception. And with a history of seven major NCAA violations, which include paying players, Auburn’s is more rogue than sparkling.

But Chizik has never seen it that way since he was hired two years ago. And he surely doesn’t now.

“It hasn’t in terms of the way I see it and the way our players see it and certainly the way our fans see it,” Chizik said of whether his team’s perception has changed this week.

Yet whether the allegations are true or not, Chizik is in denial about Auburn’s latest image problem, because the Tigers once again have a cloud hanging over them.

But during Auburn’s previous troubles, there wasn’t as much at stake, at least on the field.

Entering their final two regular-season games against Georgia and at Alabama, the Tigers are in the thick of the national championship hunt and Newton is the favorite of many to win the Heisman Trophy.

Now with the allegations involving Newton, both races are being looked at through a different prism nationally. Because with sports becoming increasingly tainted by cheating, it makes college football fans wonder whether Auburn and Newton are the latest cheaters to prosper.

That’s except for rabid Tigers fans, who had signs at Saturday’s game with messages such as “I Stand By My Cam!”and “This Family Has Cam’s Back … All-Auburn, All-In.” Give them credit for their blind loyalty, but the magnitude of the allegations facing Newton could be felt at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Instead of Auburn’s usual raucous crowd for home games, the mood was subdued. The student section wasn’t as amped for the pregame ritual of playing the song, “All I Do Is Win,” there were empty seats at kickoff, and much of the crowd was long gone before the game ended.

Even Newton’s infamous victory celebration antics were as toned down as they’ve been all season and consisted of just slapping high-fives with those in the student section. That was even after the usually shaky passer inflated his air statistics against a generous defense by throwing for career highs of 317 yards and four touchdowns while playing just the first half.

Sure, the Tigers were facing a Football Championship Subdivision sacrificial lamb, but this was homecoming for a team that could win a national championship and have a Heisman Trophy winner.

But don’t worry, everything’s fine. That’s why before Newton met with the media after Saturday’s game, an Auburn official announced that he would answer only football-related questions. He still was asked whether he knows Kenny Rogers, who has denied allegations that he claimed to represent Newton and solicited money from Mississippi State, but declined to answer the question.

“I wish I could talk about it right now, but I can’t and that’s how it goes,” Newton said.

But when asked why he couldn’t speak about the allegations involving him, Newton said he “was not sure” before declaring that he “didn’t think that it’s right to talk about right now.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong,” said Newton, who quipped that “when God be blessing, the Devil be messing.”

Newton dodged a question about whether he felt differently now in light of the allegations, but the local, pro-Auburn media was more than accommodating with questions that allowed Chizik to defend him.

“This is a great kid and he has been a great kid at Auburn University,” Chizik said.

That’s great, but the allegations facing Newton date back before he arrived at Auburn. And his days before arriving here weren’t always so great, as when he was arrested in connection with the theft of a laptop while at Florida.

There are probably also more conveniently overlooked chapters of his portrayed redemption story yet to be told.

Unfortunately, the NCAA is the definition of slow, so the answers won’t come before the BCS title game or the awarding of the 2010 Heisman Trophy. And as evidenced by the Reggie Bush saga, they might take years.

Not that it matters anyway. After all, everything’s just fine.