AUBURN, Ala. — On paper, Auburn football appears to have its most balanced roster under Gus Malzahn in 2017. But each positive aspect of the Tigers has a potentially troublesome flip side. Here’s a preview of Auburn’s upcoming season using each position’s biggest reason for confidence and its biggest concern.
No position on Auburn’s 2017 roster has gone through a bigger overhaul this offseason than the all-important quarterback spot. At the end of the regular season in 2016, the Tigers struggled mightily with an injured starter in Sean White and a pair of backup options that just didn’t pan out well.
A few weeks later, Auburn added the biggest graduate transfer of the recruiting cycle in former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham. True freshman Malik Willis also joined the team before the calendar flipped to 2017. An abrupt coaching change brought a new coordinator and position coach in Chip Lindsey.
In spring ball, Auburn lost two quarterbacks to transfer and another one in John Franklin III to a position change. White didn’t fully practice as he recovered from yet another injury, giving Stidham and Willis a perfect chance to make great first impressions.
Heading into the final month before the start of fall camp, Auburn’s retooled quarterback room has been the key catalyst for a growing amount of preseason hype. A healthy White will give Auburn a strength in numbers that it hasn’t had in a while. But this unit still has a lot to prove in a short amount of time.
2017 Auburn football quarterbacks
- Jarrett Stidham (sophomore, 6-foot-3, 214 pounds)
- 75-109 for 1,265 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions at Baylor in 2015.
- Sean White (junior; 6-0, 211)
- 133-208 for 1,679 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions in 2016.
- Malik Willis (true freshman, 6-1, 202)
- Devin Adams (junior walk-on; 6-3, 244)
CONFIDENCE: Dynamic depth
Stidham didn’t officially win the starting job in spring practice, but he did everything short of it. He took reps as Auburn’s first-team quarterback from the start of camp and impressed with both his arm talent and leadership skills.
A taller, more athletic quarterback, Stidham should give Auburn something it didn’t have with White at his healthiest — downfield efficiency. Stidham is a pocket passer with good mobility and a lot of experience running the run-pass options that should define Lindsey’s offense. His success on intermediate-to-deep throws could push Auburn’s offense to new heights in 2017.
Willis was arguably as big of a winner in spring ball as Stidham. The early enrollee did his best Nick Marshall impression during practices and scrimmages, and he delivered several impressive throws during the annual A-Day game. Willis outperformed former Auburn quarterback Woody Barrett in camp and looked more ready for the college game than the typical freshman quarterback.
And don’t forget about White. In his two years as a starting quarterback for Auburn, White fought through several major injuries and proved to be a tough offensive leader. While his size and his arm aren’t quite what Stidham brings, White has experience and a track record of being quite efficient when called upon for a run-first Auburn offense. Even with the injuries, White finished 2017 first in the SEC in completion percentage and fourth in QB rating.
Together, Auburn shouldn’t be put in the same position as it was in 2015 and 2016 if the starting quarterback goes down with injury. The depth at quarterback looks more promising than it has in quite some time at Auburn. That gives the Tigers an extra edge and, more importantly, extra security.
CAUTION: Potential is unproven
It’s common sense, but it bears mentioning here — potential doesn’t mean much until its proven on the field. While Auburn’s new blood in the passing game should lead to improvement, that’s not always a guarantee in the SEC.
As great as Stidham looked during spring practices, he still hasn’t taken a snap at Auburn yet. The former 5-star quarterback only made three starts at Baylor, and he had his ups and downs as a freshman thrust into the No. 1 job. Stidham hasn’t yet faced the caliber of defenses he’ll see in conference play.
There’s a lot for Auburn fans to like about Stidham’s potential in the offense. Next to a strong running game, Auburn should be more dangerous in all areas of attack this fall. His presence will make defenses respect the pass a lot more, which should open up more running room for the likes of Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.
But Auburn most likely will have a first-time starting quarterback in the SEC under a first-time offensive coordinator in the SEC. There will be some bumps, and Auburn has a few tough tests in the first half of the season.
Stidham definitely looks like he has the talent to put up big numbers and lead Auburn to more wins in 2017. However, Auburn has seen a list of hyped quarterbacks in the past not live up to high expectations — and a few of them have played under Gus Malzahn. That inexperience should temper, but not completely shut down, some of the bolder projections flying around this offseason.