Aubserver Mailbag 108: So... what is Auburn going to do at quarterback?
This week: Portal QBs, Robby Ashford, Holden Geriner, basketball's turnaround, timeouts, ESPN, jerseys, statues and Relient K
QB Robby Ashford (Auburn Athletics)
If there’s one topic that can generate discussion at any time — no matter what’s going on with the football program or what season it is on the calendar — it’s the quarterback spot at Auburn University.
The window for non-graduate transfers to enter the portal has closed, and it’ll stay that way until another smaller window in May. Transfers currently in the portal can still commit to new schools, but they won’t be able to go through spring practices.
Auburn has landed one of the best transfer classes in the entire country this offseason, with a dozen players deciding to come join the program’s new era. The Tigers have addressed their needs on the offensive line better than any other team before them in the portal era. They’ve also landed impact players at key positions elsewhere. And they’re probably not done yet.
But what Auburn doesn’t have in that transfer class is a quarterback, even though it has tried in this cycle. And with Ole Miss getting not one, but two, transfers at the position this week, there have been a lot of questions from fans about what the Tigers are doing at the most important position on the field.
Questions about the quarterback room lead things off in this week’s mailbag, and they’re followed by a run of interesting ones about a newly resurgent Auburn basketball team looking to make it five straight wins on Saturday at South Carolina. We wrap up with statue talk and a tribute to two formative albums for me — and, undoubtedly, a number of people of a certain upbringing who are around my age.
Thanks as always for your support of The Auburn Observer. We weren’t able to get to all the questions this week, but each one of them are greatly appreciated. It was awesome to see so many in the email inbox and the Twitter mentions after I got back from a fun but short trip to Baton Rouge for Auburn-LSU basketball on Thursday. (And now, on this Friday, I’m heading in the other direction to South Carolina.)
What does Auburn’s transfer portal QB situation look like now with Sanders to Ole Miss?
Are we really about to move forward with the Robby Ashford experience in 2023 or do we think Freeze lands a transfer in the next 7 months?
Spencer Sanders landing at Ole Miss this week is somewhat strange to me. Starting quarterback Jaxson Dart still has eligibility remaining, and the Rebels picked off former top-five quarterback prospect Walker Howard from the transfer portal a day before Sanders’ decision. I’m not 100% sure what Lane Kiffin’s plans are with his quarterback room.
But what I do know is that Sanders was in the portal from the start of the transfer window until after the deadline for entrances — more than a month. He was long linked to several schools, with Auburn being one of them. But the Tigers never brought him on campus for a visit, and he ends up transferring to a place where he’s not guaranteed to start. That speaks volumes, or at least it does to me. If Auburn or anyone else really wanted Sanders to be the guy for them, it had plenty of time to actually go out and do it.
So now what? Is Auburn going to get a quarterback in the portal this offseason?
Let’s go back to what Hugh Freeze said when asked if Auburn was interested in getting a transfer quarterback on National Signing Day last month:
“Yes. Yes, we’re… if it's the right one, that we believe we can win games with. And we've gone back and forth on our rankings of them, and we're kind of looking at that list right now and in conversations with the next man up. And hopefully we'll get the right one.”
That was on Dec. 21. That was a day after Devin Leary, who officially visited Auburn, picked Kentucky. It was also a few days after Grayson McCall’s official visit fell through due to academic issues. (McCall, who was also linked to Florida, ended up returning to Coastal Carolina.) Since Auburn didn’t bring another transfer quarterback option on campus, it doesn’t seem like it found the “right one” in the portal this time.
Does that mean that Auburn won’t get anybody? I don’t think so. But I do think there’s value in the new staff seeing what they’ve got in Robby Ashford, Holden Geriner and the returning T.J. Finley before deciding what route it wants to take in the spring transfer window. (Hank Brown gets here in the summer.) That could mean a starter-quality option, a competitor for fall camp or just a depth piece with some college experience. Evaluate, then decide what you want to do next.
As for Ashford, I’m interested in seeing what his progression looks like under Freeze and Philip Montgomery in spring practices. He played through injuries last season, but that can’t fully explain away the fact that he was one of the most inaccurate and inefficient passers in college football. Ashford is a great weapon as a runner, and he’s shown some flashes through the air. I think the new offense will be a much better fit for him than anything he would’ve had under Harsin, too.
Again, let’s go back to what Freeze said about Ashford during his intro presser:
“When I watched Robby’s last game — I think I told John (Cohen) this — he’s got me intrigued now. I knew he could run around and obviously that’s very positive, but I saw him make some throws in that game. There was one particular in the right corner of the end zone. That was a really, really, really difficult pass. And it was beautifully done. I do think I have a gift to help develop quarterbacks. If you look at everywhere we’ve been, we’ve had pretty good success with that. I’m very anxious to get to work with not only him, he’s a tremendous athlete, but I think there’s other good players in that room too. But I was impressed with how I thought he improved.”
You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket at quarterback, whether it’s a heavily hyped transfer or a returning player with experience. I don’t think fans should write off Ashford because of his numbers from last season, but I also think expectations for him in 2023 need to be tempered. The whole quarterback situation is just going to take some patience from all involved.
If you could go grab a college football quarterback for Auburn next season from another team that is somewhat realistic (not someone leaving for the NFL this offseason, not a star like Caleb Williams) who would you go for? Consider scheme fit, talent, and years left to play.
Well, I think Grayson McCall would’ve been the perfect fit. Unfortunately for both sides, that couldn’t come to fruition for reasons that didn’t have anything to do with football.