- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. (AP) - Ten hours after winning the national title, Auburn coach Gene Chizik was typically intense and businesslike, already saying the time to celebrate was over.

“It’s expired,” he said Wednesday morning, adding that they “have to start all over starting today.”

OK, the Tigers might not have to start from scratch after a 14-0 season that culminated with the program’s second national title, first since 1957.

They do face quite a challenge to make sure their rise to national championship contender is not a passing fad. That’s especially true if the Tigers’ biggest stars, quarterback Cam Newton and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, head to the NFL following their junior seasons.

Those two All-Americans often powered the Tigers to wins. If they join the exodus of 23 seniors _ including 13 starters _ Auburn seems unlikely to be picked to repeat in the SEC West much less as national champs.

Of course, the Tigers were predicted as middle-of-the-packers in the division this season, too, but wound up perfect and pulled off nine comeback victories _ including Monday night’s.

Those modest projections came before Newton emerged as college football’s most dynamic player and a runaway Heisman Trophy winner, and before Fairley became the most fearsome defensive lineman in the nation.

Newton weathered a recruiting scandal along the way. Now, he’s moved on to celebrity status and was to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” Tuesday night.

“When you look at that guy a year ago, nobody knew who he was,” Chizik said. “And you look at just what he’s done, it’s a great story. He is a huge part of what our football team became. I think he got our players to rally around him in terms of the way they upped their level of play.”

Chizik and Fairley both said after the game they would sit down with family and coaches before making the NFL decision. It would be hard to imagine either _ or Auburn _ topping this season.

They have only until Saturday to declare for the draft.

“The time is obviously coming up,” Chizik said. “We have one focus before this game and I’ve got so much respect for both of those guys because they are getting hit from every angle with the same question, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to stay? Are you going to go?’”

They didn’t miss a beat on the field.

Newton passed for 265 yards and two touchdowns with an interception and ran for 64 yards despite hurting his back. Chizik said he had no update on the injury, which didn’t sideline the quarterback for any plays in the title game.

Newton did leave the postgame news conference early.

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