Their fates were intertwined for one unforgettable year, culminating in Auburn’s victory over Oregon in the BCS Championship three weeks ago. Now, life goes on.
It brings back thoughts published in this space almost exactly a year ago, as your friendly neighborhood hack tried to put Auburn’s signing of Newton into perspective. Recall this measuring of Newton’s laptop lapse at Florida and Auburn’s risk in signing him, written by yours truly and published Jan. 24, 2010:
“Newton’s case — like so many others — comes down to an assessment of risk and potential reward. If Newton plays like his credentials foretell and stays out of trouble, then the risk was worth it.
“… If Newton creates embarrassing off-the-field headlines, then Auburn officials should neither duck nor spin. They took the risk.”
One major scandal, one Heisman Trophy, one national championship and another highly ranked recruiting class later, score reward way ahead of risk. And the onset of National Signing Day on Wednesday brings Auburn’s greatest reward into focus.
Newton gave the Tigers a bridge over rebuilding, helping Auburn win big on the field while second-year coach Gene Chizik and staff worked to rebuild the Tigers’ roster.
Newton also helped to show that winning a national championship is possible at Auburn, and the Tigers’ first national title since 1957 is only beginning to impact their recruiting.
There’s one big caveat in all of this. While the Newton reward runs ahead of the Newton risk, the race goes on as the NCAA continues to probe Newton’s recruitment.
But the NCAA said in early December that Newton was eligible to play at Auburn, based on evidence uncovered at that time.
The reinstatement ruling gave the case a replay-review feel. One senses it will take conclusive evidence that Newton knew of his father’s apparent pay-for-play pursuits with Mississippi State interests and/or evidence of wrongdoing at Auburn to change the call on the field.
Barring such, the likeliest outcome appears to be new legislation to close the so-called “Newton loophole.” If that’s all there is, then Newton reward will prevail over Newton risk handily.
What’s an onslaught of nasty headlines compared to a Heisman, national championship and bridge over rebuilding?
Consider Auburn’s roster when Chizik inherited it in 2008. The lack of depth was apparent during the Tigers’ 5-7 crash in 2008, and it showed again during a second-half swoon in 2009.
Chizik’s first Auburn team finished the regular season 2-5 after a 5-0 start, and the help-wanted sign was out. The Tigers’ clear need helped them sign a top-five 2010 class, including Newton.
Even with that class, Auburn seemed years away from serious contention, but who knew Newton would mount one of the most dominating seasons by a quarterback in college football history?
He uplifted an 8-5 team to a 14-0 national champion, making rebuilding feel like reloading.
Meanwhile, the excitement Newton helped Auburn to build through the 2010 season no doubt helped the Tigers recruit what looks to be another strong class. Rivals.com ranks Auburn’s current list of 22 public commitments at No. 6 nationally, and Scout.com says No. 3.
That Auburn loses 22 seniors plus Newton, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and wide receiver Darvin Adams — all juniors who declared for the NFL draft — no doubt helped Auburn’s continued recruiting. There’s still need aplenty and the promise of early playing time.
The 2011 season promises to look like 2010 likely would have, sans Newton.
But Newton gave Auburn a big year on the field amid rebuilding. He also gave the Tigers a national championship to sell future recruits and late deciders in this year’s class.
If the probe of Newton’s recruitment follows its apparent heading, then college football has likely never seen a better risk-reward outcome than Auburn’s decision to sign Newton.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Jomedstar.