Georgia-Auburn Preview

This was supposed to be the another huge step for Cam Newton in

what had been a remarkably smooth season on the field, a chance for

this wondrous quarterback to lead Auburn into the Southeastern

Conference championship game and keep the Tigers on course for a

shot at the national title.

Instead, heading into Saturday’s game against longtime rival

Georgia, there’s nothing but questions about what he’s done off the

field.

Did someone claiming to represent his family offer him up to

Mississippi State for $200,000? Did his father cut a better deal

with Auburn? Did Newton cheat on schoolwork while at his previous

school?

The dream season has become a nightmare for Newton and No. 2

Auburn (10-0, 6-0 SEC). He looked like the clear choice to win the

Heisman Trophy, but some voters are reconsidering their ballots.

Others wonder if Newton should even be eligible, if this unbeaten

season will turn out to be nothing but a mirage on the Plains by

the time the sordid tale is all sorted out.

Auburn spokesman Kirk Sampson said Friday the school had no

comment on Newton’s status against the Bulldogs. NCAA spokeswoman

Stacey Osburn said in an e-mail Friday that ”the NCAA does not

comment on current, pending or potential investigations” when

asked if the governing body had advised Auburn of potential

eligibility issues for Newton.

Auburn has steadfastly defended its star player, with coach Gene

Chizik going so far as to label the reports about academic cheating

at Florida ”pure garbage,” and he declared mid-week that Newton

would definitely be starting against the Bulldogs (5-5, 3-4). A win

in the Deep South’s oldest rivalry would send the Tigers to the SEC

title game for the first time since 2004.

The Tigers have tried to shrug off all the reports about

Newton’s background and recruitment, which began a little over a

week ago and haven’t let up. Newton has denied breaking any NCAA

rules.

”He hasn’t let it affect him,” linebacker Craig Stevens said.

”The fact it hasn’t affected him, I think it has rubbed off on the

team. We’ve let it fly by.”

Newton has been an unstoppable force for the Tigers, leading the

conference in rushing (1,146 yards, 15 touchdowns) and ranking

second nationally in passing efficiency (67 percent completions, 19

TDs, only five interceptions). He’s the major reason a team that

went 13-12 over the last two seasons is suddenly a contender to win

it all.

”He’s a guy who can throw the ball or take off and run with

it,” Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent said. ”If he gets in the open

field, he can make some guys miss. He’ll stiff-arm you or juke you,

try to do whatever he can to make a play. He’s their guy.”

The Tigers are second in the BCS rankings and assured of being

in the national championship game if they can win out. Georgia is

expecting Newton to keep playing like he has – maybe even

better.

”He’s really pushing through the adversity that people are

trying to throw at him,” linebacker Christian Robinson said. ”I

think it gives him more motivation to go out there and show he can

maintain his ability to make those plays.”

Georgia has its own issues in what has been another

disappointing season. The Bulldogs got off to a 1-4 start, then

fought back into contention with three straight wins. They actually

had a chance to win the SEC East, but an overtime loss to Florida

ruined those hopes. Now, with games left against Auburn and Georgia

Tech, the only goal left is bowl eligibility.

”We have a chance to win a huge game,” Robinson said. ”That

would make things a lot better. That would make people feel a lot

better about this season. The seniors could go out on a great note,

and people would always remember if we won this game, that we went

out and stopped Cameron Newton.”

Since few teams have done that, the Bulldogs know they’ll likely

need to score points – a lot of them – to pull off their fifth

straight win in a series that began in 1892. Auburn has already

played the highest-scoring game in SEC history, a 65-43 victory

over Arkansas, and lit up the scoreboard four other times with more

than 50 points.

”We’re going to have to put up points, bottom line,” receiver

Tavarres King said. ”That’s a powerful offense.”

Georgia will likely try to control the time of possession with

its running game, though it will be hard to pass up taking some

shots downfield to A.J. Green against Auburn’s suspect

secondary.

The junior receiver has come back from a four-game suspension,

imposed by the NCAA for selling a bowl jersey to someone deemed an

agent, to catch 32 passes for 510 yards and seven TDs. The Tigers

are an inviting target, ranking next-to-last in the SEC in pass

yards allowed (241 per game).

Of course, Georgia must give quarterback Aaron Murray time to

throw it downfield. That’s not easy with Nick Fairley lurking up

front. The 298-pound junior is having a breakout season,

registering 7.5 sacks and 18 tackles behind the line while

punishing opposing quarterbacks with some fearsome hits.

”I don’t even want to think about that,” Murray said, managing

a nervous smile. ”I may say to him, ‘Hey, how are you doing,

please don’t kill me.”’

Green said he feels for Newton after facing his own media

scrutiny over jersey-gate.

”Having been through that myself, it wasn’t a good feeling,”

Green said. ”Everywhere you go, people are asking you what

happened. I would just tell him to keep his head up, keep working.

The only thing that is going to help this is to keep winning.”

AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., contributed to this

report.