GLENDALE, Ariz. — The fuss and the furor surrounding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton isn’t going to end any time soon.
In fact, the fun may just be starting for the Heisman Trophy-winning Tiger, who capped off a remarkable and controversial season in Monday night’s BCS national championship game.
His play on the field this season was spectacular obviously, a quarterback trapped in a linebacker’s body who capped one of a record-setting season that was as statistically impressive as it was artistically.
It almost came crashing down in early December when allegations surfaced that Newton’s father tried to get cash from Mississippi State in return for his selecting that SEC school. Newton denied any knowledge of the scam and was cleared to play in the conference championship game that earned his team the trip here.
But with his first — and possibly only — full season of NCAA ball behind him, attention will turn immediately to Newton’s future in the NFL.
Should the 6-fooot-6, 250-pound scoring machine decide to declare himself eligible for the draft in the next couple of weeks, speculation will begin immediately about how high he will go.
Canadian Jesse Palmer, a former quarterback with the Florida Gators and now a college football analyst with ESPN, said this week that Newton’s season has been one for the ages.
“It’s absolutely remarkable,” Palmer said prior to Monday’s game. “I think people will look back at this individual season and probably say it was one of the greatest single seasons we’ve ever seen.
“I think it goes beyond the records. It goes beyond rushing for over 1,400 yards and setting a record for an SEC quarterback. His ability to dominate games physically.”
His physical attributes are one thing — rushing for 1,409 yards and 20 touchdowns prior to Monday night and throwing for 2,589 more yards and 28 more TDs.
But Palmer, who has become one of ESPN’s most respected football analysts since retiring from the Montreal Alouettes, said Newton brings untold intangibles to a team that had to fight its way through one of the toughest conferences in America to make it to the championship game.
Eight times this season the Tigers trailed in games and in all eight they came back. Most notably in that incredible run was the big win over arch-rival and defending national champion Alabama, a game in which they spotted the Crimson Tide 24 points.
“The way the team was able to feed off his emotion and he was seemingly able to just will his team back into big games, particularly down the stretch when the distractions were the biggest, that’s when Cam Newton was able to have some of his biggest games,” Palmer said.
While it’s expected that the NCAA investigation will pick up after this game, it may not matter whether Newton is cleared or not. While there’s a possibility Newton could face sanctions, there’s at least as strong chance he will declare himself eligible for the draft this spring regardless.
What will NFL talent evaluators make of all that?
“When the scouts test him and see he is a true 6-foot-6 and that he can run like he runs and throw the ball like he throws it,” said ESPN analyst Mark May, “I think the next level is going to drooling over the prospects.”
If that indeed ends up being the case why stay in college? For better or for worse, Cam Newton’s draft stock may never be higher than it is right now. He may never be a bigger story, either.