Aubserver Mailbag 83: So Fresh, So Clean
This week: Instant-impact freshmen in football and basketball, a huge what-if, Sharife Cooper, Walker Kessler, college town restaurants, the indies and grocery store strategy
WR Jay Fair (Todd Van Emst/Auburn Athletics)
Over the holiday weekend, I was talking to my mom about the sports calendar that runs both of our jobs when she made an interesting point — once the Fourth of July comes and goes, people don’t go on vacations as much. Athletes of all ages are starting to lock in, getting ready for the school year and the season ahead.
We see that at Auburn right now. The Tigers picked up a pair of highly touted recruits over the last week, a time when a good number of football players are ready to make their decisions so they can focus on their final years of football. The summer work is in full swing for both the football and basketball teams we cover here at The Observer.
It’s about to be the start of a new school year, and it’ll automatically be a memorable one for those athletes who are true freshmen in 2022. Those players receive so much offseason attention, which was reflected by a number of questions in this week’s mailbag.
You asked about the chances of freshmen seeing the field for Bryan Harsin this fall as well as the potential impact in Year 1 for both Chance Westry and Yohan Traore. We also talked about a big what-if for Auburn football, the near future in both scheduling and recruiting, a hypothetical SEC-Big Ten megaconference challenge, an Auburn version of NBA Jam, indie wrestling, Fourth of July food and — of course — grocery stores.
There’s a lot in this week’s mailbag. Thanks for continuing to make them fun this offseason. Let’s go.
Which true freshmen are most likely to play this fall? (Given that we now know the incoming transfers and returners.)
I broke down the freshman situation for Auburn football last month in some detail, sparked by the reminder that only two true newcomers — Jarquez Hunter and Landen King — played roles for the Tigers last season. While that fit in line with what we’ve seen in the past from Bryan Harsin teams at Boise State, it’s a far cry from what Auburn was used to under Gus Malzahn.
The fact of the matter is that Harsin has tons more access to college-ready freshmen than he ever had in the Mountain West, so that trend might change in the near future. But Auburn returns a good chunk of its two-deep in 2022, and it’s a must-win type of season for Harsin after the type of offseason he’s had. How willing will his staff be to turn it over to some of the kids?
I still think Damari Alston is the best bet to contribute in 2022. With Shaun Shivers gone, Auburn needs a third running back to step up with Tank Bigsby and Hunter, even if it’s not a massive role. Alston has been a staff favorite for a while now, and the most impactful freshmen in Harsin’s tenure have either been quarterbacks or running backs. No disrespect to Sean Jackson and Jordon Ingram, but there’s an opportunity here for a talented young back like Alston to play right away.
The wide receiver spot could also use an injection of instant-impact talent, and it doesn’t necessarily have to come from just Koy Moore and Daz Worsham. Jay Fair got a head start as an early enrollee, while Omari Kelly has quite the wide receiver pedigree for a newcomer and Camden Brown has pure size to go with great speed. I’ll put a marker down and say one of these true freshmen will play a role this fall.
On defense, Robert Woodyard could carve out a role at inside linebacker with a great fall camp — there isn’t a lot of established depth there, and he was the highest-rated player in the Tigers’ 2022 class. The secondary has plenty of options, ranging from former 4-star corners J.D. Rhym and Austin Ausberry to spring surprise Caleb Wooden at safety. The two-deep could be fleshed out with freshmen. I also won’t rule out a role for Alex McPherson, the nation’s top kicker in 2022, especially with Anders Carlson coming off a major injury.
I’m willing to bet Auburn will play more than two true freshmen in 2022, but I also don’t think there’s going to be a massive youth movement, either. That’s not Harsin’s style, and there are only so many opportunities on a roster that has returning leaders or more experienced transfers at virtually every position group. Alston, a receiver, a defensive back and a wild card such as Woodyard or even McPherson would be a good start.
How many of the QBs on the AU roster do you expect to still be there one year from now?
This is a really interesting question, considering three of Auburn’s four scholarship quarterbacks have already used their one-time immediate eligibility waiver as transfers. If you leave Auburn after 2022, you would have to either sit out in 2023 or have graduated — and I’m not sure of anyone’s academic status.
Theoretically, one would think that Auburn wouldn’t carry more than four scholarship quarterbacks in 2023, due to the constant churn at the position via the transfer portal and the need to sign one in pretty much every recruiting class. If you’re going to be third- or fourth-string and everyone’s coming back, it’s hard to see why sticking it out would be smart. (Unless you’re Holden Geriner, who has more time on his side.)
So, to answer the question directly, I’ll say that I wouldn’t expect all four to be back next year. That’s just not how the position works at the major college level anymore. Now, who that will be and how they make their move work? That’s impossible to project right now.
If Bo Nix wasn't injured last year, what's our win-loss record? I say 10-2 or 9-3 before the bowl game. We would have beaten MSU, USC, and Bama for sure.
I think this could end up being the biggest “what-if” in recent Auburn football history. There are so many possibilities that spin off of this central moment.