Today's Names to Know: Cam Newton, Kenny Rogers, John Bond, Sparky Anderson, TCU, Zenyatta, LeGarrette Blount, John Wall, Edgar Renteria, David Ortiz, Edison Pena, "You're ALL winners!" and More.
So, about Cam Newton. Let me just say outright that I am a Newton fan -- I fully 'fess up that if it was another player (or another team) that I liked less, I might have a different position.
That said, this feels like a lot more smoke than fire. Yes, the NCAA is investigating Newton. And let's stipulate to the story: An "agent"/runner named Kenny Rogers claiming to represent Newton's family approached MSU alum John Bond with an offer to deliver Newton for $180,000.
There hasn't been a direct link established from the agent to Newton or Newton's dad. Further, Auburn has known about the investigation for months -- think they aren't doing (or haven't done) their own due diligence before playing Newton all season long (and risking their season)?
Did Newton or his family get paid to sign at Auburn? Hard to say. There is some odd circumstantial evidence -- particularly the detail from that SI story about Newton last week where Cam wanted to go to MSU, but his dad "decided for him" that he would go to Auburn.
But that's not the same as direct evidence of a payment from Auburn boosters through a runner to Cam Newton's family. And that's probably the only point that matters:
Will Newton be ruled ineligible -- thus taking Auburn out of the national-title race (that they are right in the middle of) and taking Newton out of the Heisman race (that he leads)?
I don't think so. I think that ultimately the NCAA can't establish that direct link. Consequently, Newton stays eligible -- Auburn coach Gene Chizik wouldn't have been nearly as defiant ("...Eligible. Period. End of story.") if he knew something was coming up the pike -- and Auburn rolls along.
Is "NCAA investigating college football's best player" a big story? Yes.
Will there be a taint of scandal, even if the NCAA can't find anything actually improper done by Newton or his family? Yes.
But, in the end, barring any new information coming out that didn't surface over months of NCAA investigation, the allegations alone won't impact Auburn's national-title hopes as much as, say, losing to Alabama would.
UPDATE: Having received enough email calling me a Pollyanna on my take on this -- and reading plenty of folks I respect that would, if they read the above analysis, call me Pollyanna on this, I am moving toward this "Circumstantially, it sure seems like something iffy happened." However, I still think that the NCAA won't find the direct link they need to boot Newton. There is a much better chance of Auburn's title hopes being derailed by losing to Alabama than losing to the NCAA. Will Heisman voters boycott? Not enough. Again: Losing to Alabama will do more to hurt Newton's Heisman chances than this scandal.
CFB Weekend Preview: TCU-Utah is a "Game of the Year" contender. It is among the single-toughest games any national-title contender will play this year. (It is certainly tougher than anything Boise State will play this year.)
If TCU loses, they are out of the national-title picture (unfairly, Utah doesn't seem to be given much of a shot, even if they win tomorrow and run the table).
If TCU wins -- on the road, at a Top 10-ranked BCS opponent -- they deserve to leapfrog Boise State (among polls and pollsters that don't already have them ahead of Boise) and into the coveted No. 3 position. Pick: TCU.
Speaking of leapfrogs, Alabama's surge gets a turbo-charge to their strength-of-schedule when they beat LSU -- a Top 10 team -- in Baton Rouge.
Last night: Boise was extremely happy that Virginia Tech survived Georgia Tech. (In other strength-of-schedule-watching, TCU -- presuming they can beat Utah -- would love for Baylor, who the Horned Frogs routed in September, to win at Oklahoma State.)
RIP Sparky Anderson: To fans of a certain age, he was the manager of the legendary Big Red Machine. To others, he was the manager of those phenomenal 1984 Tigers. To younger fans, a Hall of Famer. By all accounts, a wonderful man beloved by those who played for him and fans who followed him. Condolences to his family, friends, former players and many fans.
Must-See: Zenyatta at the Breeders' Cup. Few are arguing (yet) that she is the greatest horse ever -- although she's up there -- but a win would/should put her on the racing Rushmore. And why not say it: How about Zenyatta for Best Athlete of 2010?
(It's getting to that time of year to start thinking of contenders: Although stuff that happens in January and February is usually forgotten by the end of the year, I have to think the front-runner has to be Drew Brees, as a proxy for the entire Saints team.)
NFL Week 9: My Most Intriguing Storylines
*Game of the Week: Bucs at Falcons
*Hmm: Colts at Eagles.
*Cowboys Schadenfreude Watch: at Green Bay
*Chiefs-Raiders: ...Meaningful?! In Week 9?!
*Fantasy Player to Watch: LeGarrette Blount
NBA Last Night: Solid win for the Thunder. After getting shut down in LA by the Clippers, they went up to Portland and gritted out an OT win over the Blazers (Durant and Westbrook each had 28 points and 11 rebounds.)
And Tonight: John Wall makes his Madison Square Garden debut against a Knicks team that might be a little gassed after last night's run in Chicago (16 3s for NY!). I will be wearing my Wall t-shirt but will be watching from the couch.
MLB Hot Stove: World Series MVP Edgar Renteria didn't have his $10.5M option picked up by the Giants -- it's not unremarkable or unreasonable (even if it is a little stark that so immediately after his role as team hero they would say "Aaand there's the door." Obviously, in hindsight, Renteria was worth far more than whatever the Giants paid him last season.) Renteria will always be beloved by Giants fans.
(Meanwhile, speaking of team folk heros and team options, the Red Sox picked up David Ortiz's option for the 2011 season. They still will presumably pursue Crawford or Werth to add to their lineup.)
NYC Marathon: Will any racer get more cheers than the Chilean miner, Edison Pena, running the race?
(And another year goes by where I say "Gee, I really wish I would run the NYC Marathon. And another year goes by where everyone makes the Seinfeld reference "You're ALL winners!")