Aubserver Mailbag 151: Who are the young guys to know for the bowl game?
Also this week: Keldric Faulk, Caleb Burton III, o-line recruiting, Chad Baker-Mazara, zone defense and a whole lot of 2023 in review
DB Terrance Love (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Welcome back to the Aubserver Mailbag. I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday season, and while I greatly appreciated the break, I’m looking forward to being back on a regular schedule with basketball and football again.
By the time this is published, Auburn football will be a little more than 24 hours out from its 2023 finale against Maryland in the Music City Bowl. This is a fascinating matchup for Auburn for a number of reasons, even though standard bowl games these days are operating in this weird in-between space of relevance.
This week’s mailbag tackles a few questions right off the bat about this bowl matchup and the 2024 season — because this is the perfect time to start looking ahead for the future.
We’ve also got some basketball questions toward the back half, along with a look back at 2023 in a number of areas.
There’s a lot to get to, so let’s go.
(One quick reminder: The $5/month and $50/year subscription deal expires at the end of the weekend, so this is a perfect time to jump onboard if you haven’t already.)
What younger guy that we haven't seen much this past season are you excited to see in the bowl game?
On Tuesday, I wrote about 11 Auburn players to watch for the bowl game — and beyond. Some of them are already familiar faces to fans, such as J.D. Rhym and Cam Riley. Others are younger players who could naturally see more snaps in this matchup, like Jeremiah Cobb and Caleb Burton III.
But, if you’re truly looking for a younger guy who isn’t on a ton of people’s radars yet, my best pick is Terrance Love.
Whenever the topic of young defensive backs were brought up this year, Love’s name was usually the one immediately mentioned after Kayin Lee. While Lee got some starts early in the season and should be one of the top corners on the team in 2024, Love played less than 50 snaps on defense.
But there’s a lot to love about Love. He’s an absolute tank at safety, already measuring at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds as a true freshman. He was a standout on a loaded Langston Hughes team in the Atlanta area, and he’s posted strong speed times for someone of his size. The way older teammates talked about him in 2023 was just different than the rest of what was a loaded defensive back class.
Now, the interesting about Love is that Auburn is set to have both Jaylin Simpson and Zion Puckett available to play against Maryland on Saturday. Those two should get reps as they try to finish their careers off with a bowl victory. However, Auburn has made a point to get the kids plenty of reps in practice, and that might carry over into the game. With Donovan Kaufman likely having to become the new nickel with Keionte Scott sliding out to corner, Love should get some opportunities.
DB Colton Hood (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
While I didn’t include him in the Tuesday newsletter, I’m also keeping my eye on Colton Hood — who got a lot of praise from his teammates throughout the regular season for his work in practices. On Wednesday, Hood rotated with the second-team defense at outside cornerback, along with fellow true freshman JC Hart. That caught my attention.
An Auburn legacy, Hood is a fantastic athlete who was a composite 4-star in last year’s class. Hood could be the third or fourth cornerback in the bowl game Saturday, depending on what the Tigers do with their nickels. He’s already played in Nashville, too, having gotten some reps in the second half against Vanderbilt.
Finally, I can’t answer this question without mentioning Tyler Johnson. The big true freshman was the talk of on-site bowl practices, and if he puts it all together, there’s a real chance Auburn could slide Dillon Wade to guard in 2024. Johnson’s physical gifts stand out immediately — he’s impossible to miss on the field. His name picked up buzz from folks inside the program during the season, and that reached new levels over the past month.
Auburn has a full-strength offensive line heading into this matchup, and it will want to take advantage of that against Maryland. However, this group has not been afraid to rotate this season. Johnson might be part of that, especially if Auburn thinks he might have what it takes to compete for a starting job next season.
There are a number of other young players who could have made this answer, but those two young defensive backs and that one offensive tackle stick out to me the most. I don’t think Auburn is going to go full-on youth movement in this game, as it has a decent number of experienced guys who will be back in 2024. But Freeze and players alike have talked about being excited to see young players contribute against Maryland, so it should be a good preview for next season.
1. Could we see Keldric Faulk play more edge/jack next year since, as of now, that position group is thin/young? Seems like we could use more juice off the edge, and his athleticism and size could help there.
2. Are we yet again underrating what Caleb Burton could bring to this receiver room next year?