Could Casey Thompson or Payton Thorne be the QB Auburn has waited for?
Two Big Ten quarterbacks with multiple years of starting experience hit the portal this weekend. The Tigers were quick to show interest.
Casey Thompson (Instagram) and Payton Thorne (Instagram)
Last Thursday night, Hugh Freeze was going through the second round of the annual Ambush tour in Huntsville.
Unsurprisingly, Freeze was asked about Auburn’s quarterbacks. Here was his response, courtesy of friend of the newsletter Richard Silva at the Montgomery Advertiser:
“I guess I'm too honest and transparent sometimes, but I tell you the good and the bad. Obviously, we need to improve that position. We do. Does improving it mean we improve the ones we have? Or does it mean getting one in the portal? I think it can mean both. I kind of get excited about Holden (Geriner) and Robby (Ashford) and T.J. (Finley) and Hank Brown, who is coming in.
“Does that mean that we won't continue to look? Truthfully, I haven't seen one (a transfer QB) yet that I thought was just, 'Bam, that's the no brainer and he's ahead of the ones we have.' ... There could be one that goes in tomorrow or the next day that I'm like, 'All right, this one makes sense.' That's about as clear as I could put it, I think.”
In terms of what traits he's looking for in his future starter, Freeze highlighted a QB's ability to bring the locker room together, consistency in moving the offense and being efficient “at whatever the skillset it is that we're asking them to do.”
Less than 24 hours after Freeze’s comments, former Texas and Nebraska starting quarterback Casey Thompson entered the transfer portal. A visit to Auburn, which happened on Sunday, was quickly arranged.
Funny how that works, ain’t it?
In a second transfer portal window that has been light on established starting quarterbacks, Thompson’s entry was a big development for Auburn.
While he might not have the resume of Sam Hartman or Devin Leary from the first transfer portal window — or Grayson McCall, who the Tigers wanted in the winter but was unable to land due to academic issues — Thompson represents a solid Power 5 quarterback who can raise the level of the Tigers’ room in Year 1.
But he wasn’t the only big name to make a move out of the Big Ten this weekend.
On Sunday morning, news broke that Michigan State starting quarterback Payton Thorne had entered the transfer portal as well. Like Thompson, Thorne had started each of the last two seasons for a power-conference program and would immediately vault toward the front of the line when it came to teams looking for a transfer quarterback.
Both quarterbacks make sense for what Auburn has been waiting to get in the portal. Thompson’s visit this weekend is a clear signal of the Tigers’ interest. And it wouldn’t be surprising if Auburn got involved with Thorne, who might even be considered a more favorable option.
It will be fascinating to see how this situation will play out for the Tigers. The portal is now closed to any underclassman transfers who want to be eligible immediately for the 2023 season, and there’s a good chance that Thompson and Thorne will be the best available quarterbacks for the rest of the offseason.
Auburn isn’t the only power-conference program that has been open to adding a potential starter at quarterback — nor is it the only one in the SEC, as Florida still appears interested, even after adding Graham Mertz in the winter window.
But it’s clear that these experienced Big Ten transfers could be a much-needed boost to a quarterback situation that wasn’t going to be sorted out before the fall. Let’s take a look at what both Thompson and Thorne could offer the Tigers.