When it comes to Auburn's 2024 roster — and the QBs — Hugh Freeze is 'all in.'
The Tigers' big-picture plans are clear: They're prioritizing high schoolers over transfers, and they believe in the current QB room.
HC Hugh Freeze (Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers)
Hugh Freeze probably isn’t a gambler. When he gets behind a microphone for a press conference, he doesn’t have much of a poker face.
The Auburn head coach has described himself as transparent to a fault when it comes with answering questions from the media. His responses can be brutally honest. During the 2023 regular season, he didn’t hold back when talking about what he felt were shortcomings with himself, his roster and his coaching staff.
When it comes to playing his cards, Freeze ain’t afraid to show them to everybody. And he ain’t afraid of going “all in.”
That was the exact phrase he used Saturday afternoon in a press conference right before Auburn’s first Music City Bowl practice.
“I’m pretty all in on trying to sign this high school class, and would like to see it through and then go from there,” Freeze said Saturday. “Again, not one to sit here and say my plan is the perfect one — but that’s the plan.”
Freeze has been honest about how much he dislikes the current calendar in college football, where the early signing period and the transfer portal are colliding at the same time as teams are getting ready for bowl games.
That creates a chaotic time for roster management, especially when you throw NFL-bound bowl opt-outs into the picture. Auburn now has had 12 players enter the transfer portal this month, with leading wide receiver Ja’Varrius Johnson and quarterback Robby Ashford being the latest and biggest defections to date.
That makes Auburn’s 2023 roster thinner for the bowl game against Maryland. That roster will most likely be without cornerback D.J. James, defensive tackle Marcus Harris and cornerback Nehemiah Pritchett — who are all heading to the pros. (Safety Jaylin Simpson, if he can get healthy from a hamstring issue, told Freeze his intentions to play in the bowl.)
“I just told these young guys, they’re going to get thrown in there,” Freeze said, referring to a team meeting the Tigers had on Saturday morning.
During this time where the portal and high school recruiting war for the time, focus and attention of college football coaches everywhere, Freeze has made his preferences clear for a program that has only added one transfer in Georgia State wide receiver Robert Lewis.
“When I say I don’t think I’ve been very good at some of this portal deal, (it’s) because I’m really committed to trying to sign the best high-school class we can,” Freeze said. “And it’s really hard for me to juggle the numbers in my mind for managing the 85 (scholarship limit). If you’re really committed to that, you kinda got to see a few things through.”
And that wasn’t the only major area where Freeze put his cards on the table Saturday.
Before the transfer portal opened, Auburn was rumored to pursue a big-name quarterback. However, none of the many transfer quarterbacks have seriously been linked to the Tigers or have taken visits to the Plains.
Instead of spending major money on a potential newcomer at the position, Auburn looks like it’s going in a different but expected direction.
“I think the cool thing it seems in most people’s eyes right now, the cool thing is as soon as a quarterback hits the portal, man, I’m immediately getting hit: ‘This is your guy! Throw the bag at him!’” Freeze said. “I’m like, ‘Have y’all watched the film? How many games has he won?’ Ultimately, that’s what a quarterback gets judged on, is how many games he wins. ... Truthfully, I don’t know if you know this, but we have one of the top returning quarterbacks in Power Five with wins in Payton Thorne.
“I believe that if we get the right pieces around him and Holden (Geriner) and Hank (Brown), I think our quarterback room is going to be fine next year. That is my belief. It’s what drives me to get the right pieces around them.”