ATLANTA --- Gene Chizik was still in his I'm-only-talking-about-the-game mode Friday, even though Cam Newton has been cleared to play by the NCAA.
So it was left to Steve Spurrier to discuss Auburn's star quarterback.
"We're glad he's playing," the venerable South Carolina coach said on the eve of the Southeastern Conference Championship game. "He's played all year, and it wouldn't be right for him not to play when the championship's on the line. I remember Joe Paterno saying one time, 'You want to beat the other team when all their best players are playing.' "
Newton will definitely be on the field today for the No. 2 Tigers (12-0). The NCAA made sure of that by deciding, in a series of rapid-fire decisions this week, that while the player's father had solicited illegal payments during the recruiting process, his son knew nothing about it and was therefore eligible.
That removed one bit of intrigue from this game, but left plenty of other story lines:
- Auburn, which is atop the BCS standings, can lock up a spot in the championship game at Glendale, Ariz., with a victory over No. 18 South Carolina (9-3).
- No. 3 Texas Christian could become the first non-BCS team to play for the title if the Gamecocks pull off the upset, or No. 1 Oregon loses its regular-season finale today against Oregon State.
- The NCAA ruling likely removes any stigma from Newton's Heisman Trophy campaign, and one more off-the-charts performance might just make him the most overwhelming winner ever.
- South Carolina is trying to claim its first SEC title, and has a guy on the sideline who knows a thing or two about conference championships; Spurrier captured six of them at Florida.
"It's a challenge trying to do some things that have never been done before," the head ball coach said. "That's the fun part for me."
While the Gamecocks coach gave off his usual carefree vibe, Chizik was the exact opposite -- stoic, tightlipped and in no mood to talk about Newton's NCAA case beyond a brief reference to it in his opening statement.
When asked how Newton had reacted to the NCAA ruling and whether it might take a weight off his shoulders heading into a rematch against South Carolina, Chizik wouldn't bite.
"I'm not going to address those," he said.