Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton knows ... he's gotta have a backup plan if the whole NFL thing doesn't work out ... so he's heading back to college.
Newton -- who blew off school to become the #1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft -- has re-enrolled at Auburn University for the spring semester to continue working on his sociology degree.
FYI -- Newton signed a 4-year, $22 million contract with the Panthers when he first left Auburn ... and has undoubtedly racked up millions more through various endorsement deals.
Still, it's clear Newton knows you can't put a price on a good education ... and made the decision to go back.
A rep for the school told the Associated Press Cam won't be talking to the media about his decision because he just "wants to focus on school and be a normal student."
A normal student ... who can buy and sell the entire teaching staff.