NEW YORK - Cam Newton and the other finalists for the Heisman Trophy strolled into the room together, posed for a couple of photos with the big bronze statue, then spread out to separate tables to speak with reporters.
Andrew Luck, LaMichael James, and Kellen Moore looked a little lonely.
The Auburn quarterback certainly draws a crowd these days. Newton sat back in a leather desk chair, frequently flashed a big grin, and casually answered questions from about a dozen reporters for 14 minutes Friday, the day before he's expected to win the Heisman.
Newton said he was not disappointed in his father, even though the NCAA believes Cecil Newton tried to get Mississippi State to pay him in exchange for his son's playing there. The star QB was disappointed that his father decided not to attend the Heisman ceremony on Saturday night.
"It hurts, but that's a decision that he made," Cam Newton said. Newton has stayed an overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman, even though he played much of the season's final month with a scandal developing around him.
The week before the Southeastern Conference championship, the NCAA announced that Cecil Newton tried to pull off a play-for-pay scheme with Mississippi State, but there was no evidence that his son or Auburn knew about it. The NCAA decided Cam Newton would be allowed to play, but his father's access to Auburn athletics would be limited. The sports governing body has left open the possibility that Newton's status could change if new evidence came to light.
Cecil Newton, in a statement released Thursday by his attorney, said he would not attend the ceremony.
"He's doing it [for] the betterment of me. Whatever his decision is, I'm all for it. And I'll stick to that," Cam said.
Newton said his mother, Jackie, and two brothers would be at the ceremony, and he planned to speak with his father by phone soon after it is over.
"I said on numerous occasions how I feel about my father," Newton said. "I love him with all my heart."
On the field, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound junior has been the most dominant player in college football for 2010. He leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing, leads the nation in passer rating, and has accounted for 50 touchdowns while guiding the top-ranked Tigers (13-0) to a spot in the BCS national title game. Auburn will play No. 2 Oregon and James in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 10.
James has said he'd vote for Newton to win the award, and Moore, the Boise State quarterback, said the same on Friday.
Chris Huston, who polls a sampling of Heisman voters throughout the season and post the results at www.heismanpundit.com, predicts a landslide victory for Newton, though the scandal probably will keep him from breaking any records.
O.J. Simpson of Southern California has the record for largest margin of victory in the Heisman voting. He beat Purdue's Leroy Keyes by 1,750 points in 1968.
Huston predicted a result more like 1998, when Ricky Williams of Texas beat Kansas State quarterback Michael Bishop by 1,563 points, the fifth-largest margin in Heisman history.
If Luck, the Stanford quarterback, finishes second, it will mark the first time two different players from the same team were runners-up in consecutive seasons since Keyes and Mike Phipps did it for Purdue in '68 and '69. Former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart finished second to Alabama's Mark Ingram last year.
Many voters have said that as long as Newton was eligible to play, they would treat him like any other candidate. However, a few voters have said they would not vote for Newton because of the scandal. It was only three months ago that Reggie Bush, the 2005 Heisman winner for USC, gave back his trophy after the NCAA ruled he had broken rules by accepting cash and gifts while he was in college.
Newton said that the way he's been portrayed in the media since news broke six weeks ago of his father's dealings with Mississippi State has bothered him at times.
"I know how I feel about Cam Newton," he said. "I think he's a good guy. If some people break down the football barrier .. they'll find out a lot more than they've been getting in the recent past.
"I thank God for putting me in a lot of situations because a person can get stronger by adversity. And for me to go through that, I feel like I'm a stronger person. And God won't put no more on you than you can bear."
He said winning the award would "be a dream come true."