- Associated Press - Thursday, December 2, 2010

AUBURN, ALA. (AP) - Cam Newton’s performance hasn’t faltered in the wake of pay-for-play allegations _ and neither has his smile.

The Auburn quarterback seems unfazed by the controversy _ or all the accolades _ that have come his way in the month leading up to the biggest game of his life.

The Heisman favorite leads the Tigers (12-0) into Saturday’s Southeastern Conference championship game against No. 18 South Carolina in his hometown of Atlanta. A win propels second-ranked Auburn into the national championship game.

Newton, who hasn’t spoken to the media since Nov. 9, is always seen smiling, practically skipping onto the field before games and celebrating exuberantly with fans after wins.

“Business as usual for Cam … just straight goofball,” said Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. “He’s always joking around, always messing with everyone. That hasn’t changed at all throughout this year, throughout any of this. So it’s just good to have regular ol’ Cam.”

The NCAA cleared Newton to play in the game on Wednesday after ruling that the quarterback was unaware that his father, Cecil, and the owner of a scouting service _ former Mississippi State player Kenny Rogers _ violated amateurism rules by shopping the quarterback’s services to the Bulldogs.

It wasn’t necessarily the end of the case, but it did punctuate a nearly monthlong saga where his eligibility was a persistent question hovering over Auburn.

For now, at least, it’s all about football. And though Newton has been silent, he has done a lot of talking with his legs and arm. He has thrived as controversy shadowed him.

In the three games since the allegations were first reported on Nov. 4, he has averaged a steady 298 yards in total offense, producing 13 touchdowns and yet more wins.

He’ll likely need another strong performance if the Tigers are to beat the Gamecocks (9-3), who were the unwitting participants in Newton’s coming out party as one of college football’s most dynamic stars.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier remembers it well, and not just Newton’s 176 rushing yards, 158 passing yards or five touchdowns. It was the first time the nation saw one of his Newton specials.

The 6-foot-6, 250-pounder sprinted through the line seemingly on a collision course with two converging safeties, then suddenly cut toward the sideline before racing to the end zone and diving from the 7-yard line to cap a 54-yard touchdown.

“Our safety had him, and then our strong safety was coming outside,” Spurrier recalled. “And he put a sidestep on and juked both of them _ I think they ran into each other _ and then skirted down the sideline and dove into the end zone. We were like, ‘Wow.’ We were telling our (defensive backs), ‘You’ve got to play your angles now.’

“But then we found out that he was doing that to everybody as the season progressed.”

Newton rallied Auburn from a 20-7 deficit, but it started with the run that coach Gene Chizik called “eye-opening.”

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