Senior Writer

Newton's focus more amazing than his Heisman talent


Cam Newton has won the Heisman. Book it. Inscribe his name. There are no more excuses not to vote for the nation's best player. Hell, I might e-mail my ballot in right now.

The weekly Scripps Howard News Service Heisman poll has Newton a unanimous No. 1 for the first time all season. That is significant because the poll has picked the Heisman winner correctly in 19 of the past 23 years. Based on the NCAA's Wednesday announcement alone, I have changed my pick in the SEC title game from South Carolina to Auburn. That wasn't an 800-pound gorilla the NCAA lifted from Cam's back, it was a blue whale. It's a mental thing.

Auburn fans never gave up on Cam Newton's Heisman candidacy; voters are sure to rejoin the bandwagon. (US Presswire)  
Auburn fans never gave up on Cam Newton's Heisman candidacy; voters are sure to rejoin the bandwagon. (US Presswire)  
If you thought Cam was good in the second half against Alabama, watch him blow the roof off the Georgia Dome on Saturday. Auburn will play relaxed. Cam will play relaxed, if that's any more possible.

"In all the years I've been doing it, he's the most valuable player I've ever seen," CBS analyst Gary Danielson said. "To go through all this at the same time, and his persona, not in the second half at Alabama, but in the first half at Alabama when everything was going wrong around him. ... He was calm, no theatrics, no yelling at any players, no frustrations. I thought he showed himself to be composed. We thought we had a once-in-a-generation player in [Tim] Tebow. Little did we know we had next year's player."

Wednesday might have revealed the true nature of Newton's legacy. He has persevered through the stolen laptop case, survived an allegation of academic fraud and been offered by his father to the highest bidder -- at least to Mississippi State.

I'm in awe more with how Newton has been able to play than the play itself.

"I would love to talk to him about football and what he's thinking," Danielson said, "how he's been able to compartmentalize all this stuff that's been swirling around him."

That isn't going to happen, at least before Saturday. Daniels said the broadcast crew wouldn't have access to Newton before the SEC title game. Newton will be available to the media after the game for the first time in three weeks. Even that became an issue because the SEC requires locker rooms to open and athletes be available for interviews in Atlanta or risk a fine. Now everything has changed. The eligibility announcement could eventually add a half-point to a point to the Las Vegas line that already favors Auburn, according to Mike Seba, senior oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants. The Tigers were favored by 5½-6 points Wednesday night, up from 4½-5 points.

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If the pressure has been on Newton, it hasn't shown. Since the allegations broke a month ago, he has arguably been better. Nine of his 24 touchdown passes and four of his 18 rushing touchdowns have come in the past three games.

"We're talking about a distraction," said John Murray, a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla., "which is essentially [creating] the ability to block out things that are possibly going to keep you from focusing. You have to give him a lot of credit for his ability to not allow an internal distraction, as opposed to an external distraction."

With his NCAA hall pass in hand, Newton has become a case study in mental discipline. How does a kid with so much put on him -- winning, a morally bankrupt dad, the NCAA -- keep it together? Murray knows, having worked with the national champion Florida Gators in 1996. He's also writing a book, Mental Performance Index: Ranking the Best Teams in Super Bowl History.

"Whether he thinks it's a problem or not, it is probably going to affect whether he has a righteous attitude about something ...," Murray said. "If you feel guilty about something, it doesn't help you feel well."

There has been some minor blowback from some Heisman voters, but that was before the NCAA statement declaring Newton eligible until further notice. That notice should extend through Dec. 11, when The Stiff Arm is handed out in New York. We are about to go from the closest race (won by Mark Ingram last year) to the biggest landslide. After that? It's up to the NCAA. Wednesday's release made it clear that reinstatements are likely to conclude before the close of an investigation.

The rest of us were left to wonder how a father could market his son without some kind of penalty. The case clearly exposed a loophole in the NCAA rules. SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the conference would work to sponsor legislation to close that loophole. Meanwhile, his league is still alive for a fifth consecutive BCS title.

"Suppose he knows his father did something wrong and he did nothing," Danielson said. "Can you imagine the tug of war for a son of a father to try to go through that and handle that? I wouldn't want to put anybody through that."

Cecil Newton did, and his son came out the other end competing for the Heisman and a national title. One of those is assured.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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