Do strong A-Day performances actually translate to the season?
Our friends at The Bucket Problem created an All-Spring Game team for Michigan. We did the same for Auburn to see if we can learn any lessons.
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
The big story coming out of Auburn’s A-Day Game last Saturday was, undoubtedly, the performance of offensive MVP Robby Ashford. In his public debut at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Oregon transfer quarterback stood out by completing 75% of his passes for an average of 8.25 yards per attempt.
On the defensive side of the ball, the headlines went to an Owen Pappoe-less linebacker group led by game MVP Cam Riley and leading tackler Wesley Steiner. The special teams… well, the end of the seven-year streak of Carlsons winning that unit’s spring game award was arguably the most noteworthy takeaway.
How much do those performances matter? Fans and media members alike can argue about the value of a spring game. Auburn’s this year was a quicker-paced one that didn’t have first-team versus first-team action. Can you really learn anything from these games — even the performances, like Ashford’s, that excite the fanbase?
That question was posed recently by Ace Anbender at The Bucket Problem, a Michigan newsletter and podcast quite similar to us here at The Auburn Observer. TBP is one of the most creative outlets covering a single college you’ll find anywhere, and Ace’s attempt to answer this spring game question was enlightening:
What does it all mean? I have no idea.
I went through Michigan’s recent era of holding actual Spring Games, which began when Rich Rodriguez took over for Lloyd Carr in 2009, and attempted to pull the best performances from each position. The MGoBlog archives were critical in this endeavor.
In doing this, I tried to answer a simple question: do eye-grabbing Spring Game performances translate to the season?
TBP’s Michigan All-Spring Game team (2009-present) was such a fun exercise that I wanted to take a stab at it for Auburn.
Scroll through the statistics from past A-Day Games, and you’ll see some familiar names — and a few surprises. (In fact, I once wrote a story at a previous outlet that questioned the “Spring Game MVP Curse” at Auburn, which was prompted by a press conference exchange with Rhett Lashlee.)
We’ll use the same time frame as TBP did for Michigan, since it coincides with the start of the Gene Chizik era and runs through the Malzahn era to now. After digging through the archives on Auburn’s official website and the headlines from other outlets, did we learn anything meaningful from the best of the best performances?
Quarterback: Jarrett Stidham (2017)
This was a competitive position, as one might expect. Jeremy Johnson lit up the scoreboard in 2015 (14-22 for 232 yards and 2 TD), picking up right where Nick Marshall (13-22, 236 and 4 TD) left off in 2014. Bo Nix’s two A-Day showings were both strong ones, too.
But none of those quite commanded the same amount of attention as the one from Jarrett Stidham, who went 16-20 for 267 yards — that’s an 80% completion percentage for an average of 13.35 yards per attempt — to win Offensive MVP in the 2017 A-Day Game.
Stidham’s showcase came at a perfect time for Auburn, which struggled with its quarterback play in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The former Baylor Bear showed that he was as advertised from the very beginning, which ignited excitement for the Auburn offense once again.
Was it legit? Yes. Stidham became only the second player in Auburn history to throw for 3,000 yards in a single season, and he grabbed first-team All-SEC honors as the Tigers won the West and nearly crashed the College Football Playoff. His numbers dropped off in 2018, but Stidham definitely delivered on the early hype.
(Fun Fact: Cam Newton went 3-8 during the 2010 A-Day Game. He was named the starting quarterback a short time later.)