Tale of two Auburns isn't the only story out there

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
By John Feinstein
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 12:28 AM

The drama that has played out on and off the college football field in Auburn, Ala., this season is worthy of Charles Dickens.

Auburn, picked to be a reasonably good team but nothing more prior to the season, is 11-0, ranked No. 2 in the country and on the doorstep of playing for the national championship. The Tigers have been led by quarterback Cam Newton, who left Florida two years ago, played a year of junior college ball and has emerged to become the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

But in the past two weeks, there have been accusations that Newton and his father sought payoffs during his recruitment a year ago and reports that Newton was found guilty of cheating academically while at Florida. Every day, it seems, brings a new revelation of some kind.

The best of times and the worst of times indeed.

Auburn Coach Gene Chizik reacted with outrage initially but has gone the "I only want to talk about football" route since. Newton has said nothing and wasn't even allowed to speak to the media after Auburn's win over Georgia on Saturday. That's right: After leading his team to 49 points to clinch a spot in the SEC title game, the best player in the country was kept from speaking publicly.

Auburn is also now a major part of the four-team Bowl Championship Series soap opera. The BCS apologists dodged a major bullet Saturday, when California kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 29-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter (after being called for a false start when he stutter-stepped while making a 24-yarder) that might have given the Golden Bears a win over Oregon. Instead, the Ducks hung on for a 15-13 win over a team playing a second-string quarterback that was hammered, 52-31, earlier in the season by Nevada.

Of course, on the TV network that owns the BCS, there was virtually no talk about Oregon barely escaping from a 5-5 Cal team. Instead, the pundits kept harping on what a bad week it had been for TCU: The Horned Frogs fell behind San Diego State 14-0 (gasp!). They then led 34-14 (that didn't really get mentioned much) before getting careless down the stretch to win "only" 40-35. Honestly, if you were watching, you would have thought TCU had lost the game. What's more, TCU's 47-7 win over Utah, a team that had won 21 straight home games, is now apparently meaningless because the Utes forgot to show up at Notre Dame.

Forget the fact that San Diego State was 7-2 entering Saturday's game with losses at Missouri and at Brigham Young. One would have thought San Diego State was, say, divsion I-AA Chattanooga - the team Auburn beat a week ago.

But that, as we all know, is the way of the BCS. The constant knocking of TCU and Boise State by those connected to the BCS has become as much a part of college football as fight songs. On Saturday, one ESPN radio host wondered on-air if the fact that Idaho had a second-rate stadium might hurt Boise with the voters. Seriously.

One of the sadder elements of the whole BCS mess is that there is a tendency to lose sight of the other stories playing out on the college football landscape that are worthy of attention. That was more than evident Saturday.

Even if the SEC East is as mediocre as the ACC Atlantic, you can't help but feel good for Steve Spurrier. South Carolina hadn't won any kind of championship since 1969 when it went into Florida on Saturday night and beat the Gators, 36-14, to win the division title. Getting it done on the field where he was once Lord of All Things had to make it that much sweeter for the Ol' Ball Coach.

While we're on the SEC, has anyone noticed that the league really isn't that good this season? South Carolina, at 7-3 with a loss to Kentucky and a humiliation at home against Arkansas, is the best in the East. The power is certainly in the West with Auburn and LSU, but is anyone else in either division really that good? Alabama and Arkansas are okay, but Florida is a shadow of its former self. Tennessee, Mississippi and Georgia are lousy, and Vanderbilt is awful. That's why the latest attempt by BCS apologists to claim that Auburn may deserve a spot in the championship game over TCU or Boise State even if it loses to Alabama is laughable. You can bet you will hear a lot of it in the next 10 days.

There were other good stories that flew under the radar Saturday: Army, which has been through 13 of the worst seasons imaginable, became bowl eligible for the first time since 1996 by beating Kent State. The Cadets' win means this will be the first time in history that all three service academies have played in the postseason. Navy (7-3) will play in the Poinsettia Bowl, and Air Force (7-4) probably will be in the Independence Bowl. Army (6-4) likely will go to the Armed Forces Bowl.

Maryland (7-3) could actually land in one of the two bowl games played in Orlando, a trip the Terrapins would no doubt enjoy more than a trip to downtown D.C. to shiver in late December weather in RFK Stadium playing in the Military Bowl. Forget winning the ACC Atlantic, which is still possible: Ralph Friedgen should fire up his team by talking about 80 degrees during bowl week versus 30 degrees during bowl week.

Even further below the radar, Pennsylvania clinched at least a share of the Ivy League title with an easy win over Harvard on Saturday. It is the Quakers' eighth league championship in 19 seasons under Al Bagnoli, who along with Harvard's Tim Murphy does a great, largely unnoticed coaching job every fall. This title no doubt has special meaning for Penn since the season was dedicated to Owen Thomas, who would have been a team captain had he not committed suicide last April. Since his death, there has been evidence linking the depression that led to his suicide to head injuries he had suffered.

And last, but certainly not least: Williams finished 8-0 by beating Amherst in the 125th meeting of the two schools. Like the Ivies, the teams in the NESCAC do not play in postseason so Williams-Amherst like Harvard-Yale (coming up this Saturday) is always the climax of the season. Saturday was the best of times for The Ephs, undoubtedly the worst of times for The Lord Jeffs.

For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com


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