AUBURN, Ala. — Changes for the Auburn football program are sweeping the Plains this week as the Tigers get Sugar Bowl practices underway. Auburn has a new potential starter at quarterback in Jarrett Stidham, and defensive back coach Wesley McGriff is reportedly moving to get a coordinator job elsewhere.
This week’s Auburn Mailbag is focused on those two main changes — how Stidham will affect the quarterback position and who will replace McGriff in leading the secondary. There’s also a question about a basketball team that found its rhythm again Thursday night and a random blast from Jordan-Hare Stadium’s past.
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@jckjes7: How does the addition of Stidham affect the current QBs on roster? Also, is it a given that he’ll be the starter?
I expect Jarrett Stidham’s arrival to create a massive quarterback competition in spring ball.
Sean White, who is known for his competitive fire, will want to prove that he’s still the best option when healthy. Gus Malzahn said John Franklin III would “stay at quarterback and compete for the starting job.” Woody Barrett — more on him later — will be coming off a redshirt season.
Stidham is the best choice on paper, and he’s expected to win the starting job for a reason. He brings deep-ball accuracy and mobility that White doesn’t have, and he’s more experienced than Franklin and Barrett at running an offense at the Power 5 level. The former Baylor quarterback is going to get a head start during Sugar Bowl practices next week, and he’ll be ready to roll once spring starts.
Auburn needs depth at quarterback, though, and Stidham has an injury history of its own. There’s no guarantee Stidham makes it through an entire season as the starter. So even though the Tigers got their man in the transfer market, they have to have a strong backup plan. They didn’t have one in 2016, and it cost them big-time.
Stidham didn’t transfer to Auburn to sit on the bench, but Malzahn and staff say they’ll make him earn the starting job in preseason practice. The pieces might start to move around after spring ball if Stidham already has the job. (Franklin, specifically, isn’t set to graduate until the summer.) But until then, I expect his transfer to bring out the best in White, Franklin and Barrett.
Cara Carusso Summers (Facebook): Where does Barrett fit in at QB?
The topic of Woody Barrett grabs a lot of attention from Auburn fans. The true freshman quarterback redshirted this season after enrolling later than expected. Sean White’s injury prompted cries of burning the redshirt, but the Tigers didn’t want to do it for just a couple of games.
Barrett is very much a project for Auburn. He didn’t get all of the preseason training that most get before their true freshman seasons. The build and the athleticism are there, but he isn’t exactly a polished passer. Auburn would like to develop him into a solid option, but the time to play him wasn’t 2016.
With Stidham transferring to Auburn with three years of eligibility, Barrett might become a player to watch if older quarterbacks decide to leave the program. He’ll compete with Stidham, White and Franklin for the starting job. He’ll have to make a huge impression to get it, though.
Instead, Auburn could train him up to be a solid option off the bench in 2017 as a redshirt freshman. He’s behind the curve some in terms of practice time and development, but his athleticism makes him an intriguing option moving forward.
@aufaninthe334: Any early thoughts on who might replace Coach McGriff?
Auburn defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff is headed to Ole Miss to become its defensive coordinator, meaning the Tigers will have one major opening on their staff for 2017. McGriff helped the Auburn secondary rank inside the top five nationally in passes defensed and the top 15 in passing yards allowed per attempt.
The main name that jumps out to me as a top candidate is Al Pogue, who is currently the secondary coach at Troy. Pogue worked for Auburn under Malzahn in 2011 as an offensive quality control assistant and in 2013 as the program’s director of high school relations.
Pogue, an Alabama native, had one of the best pass defenses in the nation this season at Troy. The Trojans ranked inside the Top 20 nationally this season in interceptions (7th), opposing completion percentage (15th) and opposing QB rating (19th). The Trojans forced Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson to a 50.9 completion percentage and two interceptions in a near-upset of the Tigers in Death Valley.
Troy had the nation’s third-worst pass defense prior to Pogue’s arrival in 2014. The Trojans jumped to 36th nationally the next season and improved every year since. Pogue checks the boxes as a successful defensive backs coach and one that has past experience with Malzahn.
Another top name to watch is Corey Raymond, who is the LSU defensive backs coach. He coached with defensive coordinator Kevin Steele in Baton Rouge and has been one of the best in the business at the position over the last several seasons. While it would be tough to pull him from his alma mater, that relationship with Steele could be key.
Blake Gideon, another former Malzahn staffer, just finished his first season as a defensive backs coach at Western Carolina. He has familiarity with his staff and is an intriguing option as a young coach on the rise.
Malzahn bucked his normal trends when he hired Steele last season as his defensive coordinator and McGriff as the defensive backs coach. The Auburn head man could surprise us this season, but Pogue and Raymond are my top two names to watch right now.
@DanInNC_Ohrly21: How do you feel about AU MBB chances against their remaining non-conf schedule?
Auburn has a home game Sunday against Mercer, which is 5-5 with two wins coming against non-Division I teams. The Tigers should handle the Bears by double-digits.
As for Oklahoma and UConn, the Tigers will have to shoot well in order to compete with them away from home. UConn has been a disappointment this season and ranks worse than inconsistent Auburn on the offensive side. But the Huskies have a talent advantage and more size.
Oklahoma is legit. The Sooners are strong on both ends of the floor and only had one bad game this season — a blowout loss to Wisconsin. Other than that, OU knocked off Clemson, and it took a strong Wichita State team down to the wire recently. The Sooners aren’t tall, but they have plenty of experience at the guard spots.
For Auburn, I think success would be taking care of business against Mercer and splitting the games against Oklahoma and UConn. The Tigers need Austin Wiley as soon as possible, and they might be without Horace Spencer and Bryce Brown for a while longer. But if Auburn is shooting well, it can compete with either of those teams away from home.
@grahamcarr2: Best play from the 1998 AU v. UCF game: Daunte Culpepper’s fumble or Karsten Bailey’s 58-yd TD reception soon after?
I look forward to Graham Carr’s questions each week in this mailbag, because I know I’m about to go down a fun research rabbit hole.
So let’s set the stage here: A 2-6 Auburn team is down 6-3 with minutes remaining to UCF, which is led by future NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
A low snap causes Culpepper to fumble the ball away for UCF’s fifth turnover of the game. On the ensuing drive, one play after Gabe Gross converts a fourth-and-10 to keep the game alive, Karsten Bailey makes a catch on the edge and zips down the sideline for a 58-yard touchdown.
I’m going to give the best play nod here to Bailey, who shakes off a UCF defender’s 5-yard face mask penalty — remember those? — and finds a way to give Auburn the victory.
Auburn lost to Georgia and Alabama in the following two weeks to finish the season at 3-8, setting up Tommy Tuberville’s arrival in the pine box. This game isn’t a great footnote in Auburn’s football history, but the touchdown brought some life back to Jordan-Hare Stadium in some of its darkest days.