Everyone knows that when Clemson visits Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium to kick off the regular season on Sept. 3 it will have Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson lining up in the shotgun.
But we still have no idea who Auburn plans to start at quarterback against the national runner-up.
It feels like this quarterback uncertainty is becoming an annual thing.
With Clemson coach Dabo Swinney already expecting Auburn to play two quarterbacks in the season opener, the delayed announcement could be some sort of smokescreen tactic by Gus Malzahn to keep Clemson’s defense on its toes. But realistically, it’s likely an indication that neither Sean White, Jeremy Johnson or newcomer John Franklin III has shown enough in practice for Malzahn to make a confident choice.
All three quarterbacks have been taking reps with the first-team offense in practice, which means that Auburn — a team that had only 11 passing touchdowns a year ago — has yet to find a solution to its problem under center.
Auburn fans, don’t panic just yet.
The inconsistencies that plagued the team at quarterback last year still are fresh on Malzahn’s mind. And while there isn’t a quarterback on the roster anywhere close to Kiehl Frazier territory, handing the keys to the offense to one of three unproven quarterbacks isn’t an easy decision. There are a lot of factors to take into consideration to avoid another disaster like last year.
The biggest issue with Auburn’s quarterbacks last season wasn’t the talent. White has shown that he can make all the throws, and his accuracy and poise as a redshirt freshman were impressive. He was the first Auburn quarterback to throw for 250 or more yards in three straight games since 1997.
And despite a disappointing start to 2015, Johnson finished the season on a high note when given a second chance following White’s knee injury at Arkansas. He still looks the part of a big-time quarterback and has shown flashes of greatness in the past in limited playing time.
Adding JUCO transfer Franklin to the mix doesn’t make Malzahn’s decision easier. Netflix’s Last Chance U star is one of the fastest players on the roster and possesses athletic gifts that have given Auburn fans Nick Marshall nostalgia. His skill set makes him the ideal fit to orchestrate Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense, which has proven most effective with a true dual-threat quarterback like Franklin running it.
If it were up to the fans, Franklin would have been named the starter in the spring. The the biggest knocks on him have been his accuracy (or lack thereof) and high-level game inexperience after transferring from East Mississippi Community College.
No matter who gets the nod from Malzahn, fans are going to have reasons to worry. If Johnson is the guy, they’re going to worry about the turnovers. If it’s Franklin, it’s lack of experience and accuracy. And if it’s White, the concern will be the lack of a running threat.
But Franklin is the one who truly benefits from this extended tryout. The longer the competition continues, the longer Franklin has to get better, which improves his chances of either starting or getting thrown into the fire if White or Johnson stumble out of the gate.
If he could, Malzahn would combine White’s accuracy, Johnson’s arm strength and Franklin’s speed and athleticism to create the perfect college quarterback in the mold of what Clemson has in Watson, its Frankenstein’s monster.
Unfortunately for Auburn, it doesn’t have a creature like Watson on the roster.
It does have three quarterbacks who all bring something unique to the table, and a solid supporting cast that can lighten the load until one of them develops into the player Auburn needs them to be to win games in the SEC.
I believe that Auburn’s quarterbacks — especially White and Johnson — still have their best games ahead of them. But it’s not going to happen overnight. There will be progress this year, but there also will be setbacks.
We don’t know who will start for Auburn on Sept. 3, and in all honestly, it really doesn’t matter. Fans should expect the quarterback carousel to keep spinning in 2016 until someone steps up and separates himself as starter material.
Oh, yeah…my name is C.J. Holmes by the way. I played three years of college basketball at Auburn and graduated back in May with a degree in sports-centric word writing. I’ll blog about Auburn sports, most often football. If you want to read more, which I hope you will, follow me on Twitter @_ceejay22au.