by | CBS Sports

Auburn faces intense scrutiny before Iron Bowl

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AUBURN, Ala. -- Several things were pretty clear after Auburn beat Georgia 49-31 Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

1. Regardless of how you come down on the Cameron Newton question, he is the best player in college football. Against Georgia he completed 12 of 15 passes for 148 yards. One pass was dropped, one tipped and a third was thrown away. He ran for 151 yards. He rallied his team from a 21-7 deficit to win by 18. Ridiculous.

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2. Auburn will remain no worse than No. 2 in the BCS Standings on Sunday and has punched its ticket to the SEC championship game on Dec. 4 against either Florida or South Carolina.

3. There are 13 days between now and when Auburn closes out the regular season at Alabama on Nov. 26. And a helluva lot could happen in those 13 days.

"All I know is that for 11 consecutive Saturdays, this team has found a way to win and now we have have a chance to play for a championship," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "But first we have to play a very big football game."

In many ways the Tigers were set up to fail on Saturday in the longest continuous rivalry -- since 1892 -- in the South. Georgia (5-6) has made something of a tradition of coming into Auburn with the inferior team and finding a way to win.

In 1970, the Bulldogs beat Auburn and Pat Sullivan, the SEC's Player of the Year and 1971's Heisman winner, with a team that finished 5-5.

In 1986, Auburn was ranked No. 8 and within striking distance of winning an SEC championship. Georgia beat the Tigers and their All-American tailback, Brent Fullwood, 20-16 with a backup quarterback because starter James Jackson couldn't get to the game after attending his grandmother's funeral.

In 2006, Auburn was ranked No. 5 and Georgia was struggling with freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford. Still, it was never close as Georgia won 37-15.

So this weekend, when you throw in the Newton drama, with all the charges, counter-charges and distractions that came with it, you had to figure Auburn was vulnerable. Newton had played brilliantly for 10 consecutive Saturdays. Surely, with everything going on around him, the 21-year-old was due for a less than stellar game.

In fact, we didn't know for sure Newton would even start the game until his name was announced over the public address system about an hour before kickoff. The roar at that news was deafening.

Newton, the presumptive favorite for the Heisman Trophy, had gotten beat up pretty good in the last nine or 10 days. There were charges coming from all fronts that, at best, his father Cecil had shopped his services around. Then came word on Saturday that Newton and his parents had met with the NCAA on Thursday night, when Cecil Newton allegedly came clean. An Atlanta TV station reported Cecil Newton had admitted in that meeting he'd asked about what the going rate might be for someone as skilled as his son.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton remains quiet after Saturday's win. (AP)  
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton remains quiet after Saturday's win. (AP)  
Exactly what was said in the meeting is not known at this point. But Auburn woke up on Friday and felt it was on solid ground letting Newton play. Newton was put on the bus to nearby Montgomery, where the team would spend the night. By Saturday morning, Auburn players were texting their parents in the hotel that No. 2 was going to be in the lineup.

"I'm not going to address anything dealing with Cameron other than the game he just played," Chizik said early Saturday evening. "But I will say this -- he is a warrior and I'm so proud of him."

But as our Dennis Dodd says in his entry on this game, the events that transpired to get Newton ready to play Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium was about one day -- Saturday. There are no assurances about what happens from here.

When it comes to Auburn, I'm not really talking about the NCAA. The NCAA is going to do what it will do. It is thorough -- that much we know. There is no reason to believe a pronouncement -- good or bad -- about Newton and his future is going to come out of Indianapolis any time soon.

No, the biggest obstacle the Tigers face in the next 13 days is the culture that is the SEC -- specifically, the state of Alabama. The subject of Newton's status and who might have broken rules will be pursued the way a dog gnaws on an old soup bone -- relentlessly. Despite the fact that we are now a week and a half into this story and there has yet to be any official allegation that Newton or Auburn broke any rules, there will be no relief from the toxic atmosphere that exists in this part of the world at this time of year.

The next 13 days are going to be very intense for No. 2 Auburn.

What do I mean? When Chizik was wrapping up his press briefing after the game, a reporter asked, "Have your feelings changed about Cecil Newton?"

Chizik, of course, refused to answer the question. But it was the first of many that will be raised as the Tigers try to function and win while in survival mode.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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