Editor’s Note: It’s a crucial year in Auburn. Gus Malzahn enters his fourth season in a bit of a rut, but he has proven he can quickly change the trajectory of the program when his team’s back is against the wall.
Auburn needs to find a quarterback, develop receivers and lean on a defense many expect to be much improved under coordinator Kevin Steele. Will all of the pieces come together in time for a successful season?
SEC Country takes a look at the 25 Most Important Tigers (and others) who will determine whether Auburn’s season is a success or failure.
1. The quarterback
The most important position on Auburn’s roster is also the most unstable at the moment.
Four men will battle for the job, but things are wide open following a disappointing 2015 season led by Jeremy Johnson and Sean White. Neither stood out as an elite SEC quarterback, but there’s hope one of them could emerge and take the next step to become one of the best in the conference.
Still, the prevailing opinion sweeping the Plains is newcomer John Franklin III will emerge from the four-man battle at quarterback, start against Clemson in the season opener and provide the dual-threat dynamic the Tigers so desperately missed during the 2015 season.
Franklin III has plenty of questions to answer before he wins the starting job. He needs to be more consistent as a passer. He looked the part of a starter in scrimmages behind closed doors because of his feet, but he missed several deep throws as well. Meanwhile, White proved to be the most consistent in scrimmages and could take a big step forward after being thrown into the fire as a redshirt freshman last season.
The wild card is Johnson, the quarterback Malzahn developed since his arrival in 2013. He looked marvelous in the 2014 season opener with 200-plus yards and two touchdowns in the first half against Arkansas, but he looked lost and easily flustered in his first three games as the full-time starter in 2015. He was benched, elevated to starter again when White was injured in the last third of the season and was dropped to a Wildcat option in the Birmingham Bowl when White was healthy again.
Neither quarterback was terribly effective, combining to throw 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Then there is freshman Woody Barrett, who arrived on campus in late June and will be provided every opportunity to win the job in August. Stranger things have happened, but Barrett may have to wait his turn off the bench.
Who will win the job? The odds are in favor of Franklin III, the new face garnering praise as the fastest quarterback in Auburn history. But can he throw the ball, count on his receivers and move the offense down the field — and break the red-zone woes of last season under Johnson and White’s reign?
This battle will be settled in the first two weeks of the August, and for the sake of Auburn fans and the future of coach Gus Malzahn, they better hope the starter in the opener remains the quarterback throughout the season. The last thing the program needs is another roller-coaster ride at quarterback like the Tigers experienced in 2015.
The Auburn MIT
- No. 25 — Josh Holsey, cornerback/safety
- No. 24 — Leonard Fournette, LSU running back
- No. 23 — Rudy Ford, safety
- No. 22 — Chandler Cox, H-Back
- No. 21 — Paul James III, defensive end
- No. 20 — Kamryn Pettway, H-Back
- No. 19 — Kirby Smart, Georgia coach
- No. 18 — Austin Golson, offensive tackle
- No. 17 — Marlon Davidson, defensive end
- No. 16 — Carlton Davis, cornerback
- No. 15 — T.J. Neal, linebacker
- No. 14 — Tre’ Williams, linebacker
- No. 13 — Nick Saban, Alabama coach
- No. 12 — Eli Stove, receiver
- No. 11 — Jason Smith, receiver
- No. 10 — Marcus Davis, receiver
- No. 9 — Kyle Davis, receiver
- No. 8 — Kevin Steele, defensive coordinator
- No. 7 — Montravius Adams, defensive tackle
- No. 6 — Xavier Dampeer, center
- No. 5 — Jovon Robinson, running back
- No. 4 — Nate Craig-Myers, receiver
- No. 3 — Carl Lawson, defensive end
- No. 2 — Gus Malzahn, head coach
- No. 1 — The quarterback