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Cam Newton's Heisman hopes could be dashed by the Reggie Bush factor

CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Auburn's quarterback, a leading contender for the trophy, is facing allegations of recruiting improprieties and academic cheating. Some are wary of voting for him in light of the violations Bush is said to have committed while at USC.

November 10, 2010|Chris Dufresne

Reggie Bush ruined it for everybody — at least maybe for Cam Newton.

Bush smiled a lot, seemed like a nice guy, and was, in 2005, the best player in college football outside of Vince Young's inner circle.

Who, really, can you trust in a cesspool?

Bush turned out to be a fraud — except between the lines — and ended up returning his Heisman Trophy while never quite apologizing for putting the school that made him famous on probation.

Bush's taint lingered for years, the purgatory ending last June with the NCAA's declaration of major violations against USC, which was penalized by scholarship reductions, a bowl ban and more.

While USC players who had nothing to do with 2005 are paying back rent, Bush got rich and won a Super Bowl ring. At least there was a happy ending for someone.

Bush made the already suspicious trust college football even less, and the residual rot is costing Newton, the Auburn quarterback who is having a better year than Bush had in 2005.

Some Heisman voters who got burned by Bush have been made wary by the swirling allegations.

"Am leaning toward taking Newton off the board," longtime Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Herb Gould wrote Wednesday in an e-mail. "I wasn't big on Bush returning the trophy. But this is a case where we have advance warning, and there are too many red flags there."

It's hard, with Newton, to know what to believe. ESPN and the New York Times reported a former Mississippi State player, John Bond, said someone claiming to represent the family asked the school for $180,000 to procure Newton's services.

Foxsports.com reached back into Newton's past, at Florida, and reported he cheated three times on tests and that, along with a computer theft incident, was the reason he transferred to a junior college in Texas.

There was also a report Tuesday that the FBI wanted to interview Bond.

ESPN came back Wednesday with a report that Newton may have chosen Auburn over Mississippi State because the payout was better.

Other outlets on web have conjured up memories of the old Southeastern and Southwest conferences, where the motto often was: if you're not cheating you're not trying.

It didn't help that at last weekend's Auburn game a fan held up a sign reading, "So what, he deserves to get paid."

The difference between Bush and Newton is these allegations are coming out during a season in which Auburn is competing for the national title and Newton is the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy.

That Bush was later deemed ineligible for 2005 had no impact on USC en route to a fabulous season that ended with a spectacular title-game loss to Texas at the Rose Bowl.

People are hyperventilating now because no one wants this national title to be vacated in five years.

We'd like to believe Newton when he says, "I haven't done anything wrong," but Bush said that, too.

If Newton did something to make him ineligible, that's a problem, and it's imperative we find out now to spare us having to rewrite history with asterisks.

Of course, no one has produced evidence Newton got paid by anyone, and Auburn has no plans to remove him from the lineup.

"Here's what we're going to do," Auburn Coach Gene Chizik said at his Tuesday news conference. "Because this is pure garbage, I'm not taking one question about Cameron Newton unless it has to do with the Georgia game."

But is it pure garbage?

Auburn needs to be careful here, even if the school thinks it knows all the facts. What Auburn doesn't know could be worse.

Bush made us look into all the faces of the players and coaches — the good ones and the bad — and made us wonder.

The hard questions about Newton must be asked and answered, even if there's no fire with the smoke.

Unfortunately for Newton, there's no rewind button for innuendo. Heisman Trophy ballots are going out soon. Voters still have a few weeks to see how this all plays out.

Pat Haden, USC's athletic director, a Heisman voter and the man who sent Bush's school trophy back, said on ESPN radio Wednesday that he would have no problem voting for Newton if "nothing sticks" between now and the time his ballot is due in early December.

Let's hope something sticks, or falls off the wall, and we don't have to hear the real story in 2014.

Home sweet home

California has no shot at upsetting No. 1 Oregon, right? Well, consider these numbers: Cal is 4-0 at home and has outscored those opponents 189-34. The Bears have not lost a home game in an even-number year since 2002, going 24-0 in that span. Saturday's game is in Berkeley.

Then again, Cal is 0-10 all-time against top-ranked opponents.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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