Cam Newton starts, scores opening TD

AUBURN, Ala. --
The Auburn Tigers can clinch a spot in the SEC championship game with a win over Georgia on Saturday, and they have their best player running the offense.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, the Heisman Award candidate caught in a whirlwind of controversy this week after allegations of pay-for-play demands surfaced, started for the No. 2 Tigers as they hosted the Bulldogs.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik had stated this week that Newton would start amid accusations that Newton's father, Cecil, had asked for anywhere from $100,000 to $180,000 for his son to sign a letter of intent with Mississippi State during his recruitment to that school.

made his presense felt immediately, scoring a touchdown 2½ minutes into the game.

On the very first play, Newton dropped back to pass, sidestepped two defenders and ran for 13 yards. Four plays later, he broke off a 31-yard touchdown run.

During warmups, he
juked a bit as the drum corps began the fight song at Jordan-Hare Stadium, going through several option pitches and throwing 25-yard passes during warmups before public address announcer Ric Smith revealed he would play.

Newton led the Tigers onto the field for the kickoff, wagging his head and smiling into the camera, then running all the way to the other end of the stadium to pump up the crowd of more than 87,000.

Newton has denied any wrongdoing, and Auburn fans gave him a huge cheer when he was announced as the starter. It was clear he'd be playing when he trotted on the field wearing his familiar No. 2 and worked out with the offense an hour before the kickoff.

Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin acknowledged in a statement Friday that the school "was approached with an offer to provide an extra benefit" and that the school refused.

But Auburn (10-0) contended this week that Newton is an "eligible student-athlete" despite policies that bar such recruitment activity.

"The solicitation of cash or benefits by a prospective student-athlete or another individual on his or her behalf is not allowed under NCAA rules," according to an NCAA spokeswoman.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Friday that whether Newton played against Georgia "is a decision that has to be made by the institution."

Kenny Rogers, a former Mississippi State player who has worked for a Chicago-based agent, leveled the specific allegation regarding Newton's father on Thursday in a radio interview.

John Bond, a quarterback at Mississippi State in the early 1980s, had earlier in the week told ESPN.com a former teammate contacted him soon after Newton's official visit to Mississippi State during the Ole Miss game last season and said he was representing Newton. That man was identified as Rogers, who played at Mississippi State from 1982 to '85.

Bond said he notified Greg Byrne, then Mississippi State's athletic director.

However, Rogers has denied talking to Bond.

But Bond told ESPN.com on Thursday: "My story hasn't changed. I absolutely talked with Kenny Rogers, and there are phone records that will show that."

And he confirmed Friday that he will meet Tuesday with the FBI. When asked why the meeting was necessary, Bond said, "They don't want people shopping children around for thousands of dollars."

Adding another wrinkle, Rogers said in the interview with ESPN 103.3 in Dallas that in an effort to broker a deal, he had once left a message for Mississippi State booster Bill Bell, telling Bell he was with Cecil Newton, who wanted to know whether the deal was going to happen.

Bell, contacted Thursday night by ESPN.com, confirmed Cecil Newton did ask for money in exchange for his son signing with Mississippi State. Bell said he was contacted by the NCAA about the matter and spoke to an investigator earlier this week.

"That's all I want to say about it at this point," Bell said.

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said Friday that the NCAA doesn't talk about "current, pending or potential investigations" when asked whether the governing body had advised Auburn of eligibility questions involving Newton.

When interviewed by ESPN.com on Nov. 4 at the family's home in Atlanta, Cecil Newton denied any wrongdoing.

Information from ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel and The Associated Press was used in this report.