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College Sports

December 18, 2010

AUBURN FOOTBALL: WELCOME RETURN

Tigers begin preparations for BCS matchup with Oregon

AUBURN — Cam Newton and No. 1 Auburn finally got to return to the football practice field — sort of.

The Tigers (13-0) and their Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback began preparation for the BCS national championship game against Oregon on Saturday night. But they’re doing it on the soccer field while their regular surface is being redone across the street.

Coach Gene Chizik said the move across the street doesn’t disrupt the routine.

“If we’ve got to practice in a parking lot,” he said, “we’ll practice out there.

It might be a welcome respite for Newton after a seven-day whirlwind when he collected the Heisman, the Davey O’Brien Award and the Maxwell Award, read the Top 10 list for David Letterman and appeared on “Good Morning America.” And before that, he dealt with a pay-for-play investigation by the NCAA.

Newton can focus on football again.

“It’s been kind of crazy for me lately, but I’m embracing this whole process: Practicing for the bowl game,” Newton said. “Just being around the guys. That’s what I’m used to. It’s been fun so far. I look forward to preparing for this football game.”

The Jan. 10 game in Glendale, Ariz., is still more than three weeks away. The Tigers will practice three more times before breaking for Christmas on Wednesday.

And Newton has come back to normalcy after returning from trips to New York City and Orlando.

“He handled himself exactly the way we’d have wanted him to,” Chizik said. “He’s handled himself with his teammates, coming back and being one of the guys. I think he appreciates being that. I think the team appreciates him being who he’s been for 13 weeks. He hasn’t changed a lick.

“I think he’s ready to get back into football, ready to get back with his team. I think he’s done a fabulous job of handling all that stuff.”

And now the team has to handle the national championship hype. The Tigers have moved into this position with eight come-from-behind wins and a 56-17 rout of South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference championship game on Dec. 4.

Linebacker Josh Bynes said they aren’t getting carried away with the situation.

“We’re not letting any magnitude of the game, being the national championship, get to us,” Bynes said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh dang. The national championship.

“Oh, wow.’ We’re more like, it’s the next game, it’s the next team on the map that we know we’re going to have to defeat. We’re 60 minutes away from being crowned national champions. But we have to play ball first.”

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