The Auburn Tigers play in the BCS Championship tonight, and Cam Newton will play in the biggest game of his career when the Tigers take on the Oregon Ducks.
Win or lose, Cam Newton has a decision to make once the game is over; it's likely he'll choose to go pro. Given what has happened over the last year with the cheating allegations and the pay-for-play, Newton's best option is the NFL.
Once he does decide to go pro, however, another set of issues become relevant. Prior to all the negative press this season, Newton wasn't even being considered for the 2011 Draft. All the draft professionals and analysts were putting together early mock drafts and ranking quarterbacks on their Big Boards.
Newton was a freshman for the Florida Gators before an arrest for possessing a stolen laptop got him suspended from the team and began an odyssey that landed him at Auburn.
The point is that Newton has faced a lot of adversity due to poor decision-making off the field. His behavior since he arrived at Auburn has been beyond reproach, but character is a major factor when choosing a player in the first round of the NFL draft.
However, with Andrew Luck deciding to stay at Stanford one more year, Newton's stock just rose. It will be hard for Newton to turn down all that guaranteed money, even if there is a rookie salary cap in the new collective bargaining agreement.
What Newton really needs to think about at this point is his development. He's only had one season in the sun with Auburn. Turning pro after one good season is a very risky proposition because there's still so much Newton doesn't know about even the college game.
The NFL is 10 times as difficult, and he could end up being a draft bust if he comes out too early. There are plenty of stories of quarterbacks who came out before their senior year and struggled significantly. Some were able to shake off their early woes and have good careers, but many of them burned out.
Once again, that's why character and maturity are important in a first round selection. Newton has to not only be experienced enough to pick up the pro game quickly, but he also has to be mature enough to handle the role of a starter.
Wherever he goes, there's no guarantee he gets a "redshirt" season to just hold a clipboard and learn.
While that kind of plan gets talked about a lot, it's rarely implemented and even more rarely adhered to for an entire season.
Newton has to know his limitations while being confident enough of his abilities to go on the field and make the plays.
At 6' 6", 250 lbs., Newton is a great physical prospect for a quarterback. With the way the league is developing, front offices want quarterbacks to be built bigger and be able to move like Michael Vick but still be able to throw the ball 60 yards down the field.
Newton has the physical aspects of the job covered, but one more year in college would be of great benefit to him. Because of his father, and the way the NCAA governs things, another year in college could do just as much harm to him as good—there's little doubt another year in college would result in more investigations. That's just how these things work.
Newton needs another year of seasoning before he turns pro, but that's probably not going to happen. So, Newton needs to seek out the best people to help him transition, and he has to recognize where his weaknesses are and work on strengthening them.
Newton can be a great quarterback in the NFL, but it only takes one wrong push to send the best prospect tumbling down the hill to "Draft Bust" land.