How many true freshmen can we expect to see play for Auburn football in 2022?
Bryan Harsin's first year on the Plains was a huge departure from the norm, but it fit his past. What does that mean for the new arrivals in the 2022 class?
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1980s (White-Ford-Person-Morris-Barkley) vs. 2010s (Harper-Brown-Harrell-Okeke-McLemore)
1990s (Robinson-Battle-Person-Porter-N’Diaye) vs. 2020s (Cooper-Doughty-Okoro-Smith-Kessler)
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CB J.D. Rhym (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Through all the major changes for Auburn football in the transition to the Bryan Harsin era — and there were a lot of them — it’s understandable if one roster trend went unnoticed.
Under Gus Malzahn, Auburn had double-digit true freshmen play past what is now considered the four-game redshirt limit in five of his seven seasons at the helm. The exceptions were 2014 (seven) and 2019 (six), while the high mark was set in 2018 and then matched again in 2020 (12).
Yet in 2021, Harsin’s team only fielded two true freshmen past the redshirt limit. Jarquez Hunter emerged as the No. 2 running back behind Tank Bigsby, and hybrid wide receiver/tight end Landen King played in eight games and caught five passes, including a clutch touchdown in the Iron Bowl.
There are currently 13 scholarship sophomores on Auburn’s 2022 roster. Seven have been redshirted. Three are newly arrived JUCO transfers — Jeffrey M’ba, Keionte Scott and Marquise Gilbert. There are only three who were members of the 2021 recruiting class — Hunter, King and safety Cayden Bridges1.
No matter how you view Bridges, there were only two true freshmen who even recorded a single stat for Auburn last season. That’s a major change from what the Tigers were used to under Malzahn.
Now, there are reasonable explanations for why Auburn didn’t have much of a youth movement in 2021. First of all, the majority of the 2021 class was signed in December 2020 by the transition staff between Malzahn and Harsin. Harsin and his assistants inherited players who they didn’t recruit, which is not always an easy thing to manage2.
Auburn also went heavy on the instant-impact transfers instead of relying on the incoming freshman class. The Tigers signed nine transfers last year, and most of them played significant roles on the team. That limited opportunities for newcomers to break through, especially on a roster that returned a fair amount of starters in the first place.
But there’s one more major factor to consider — Bryan Harsin’s own history with true freshmen.