AUBURN, Ala. — For most of 2016, quarterback was the most intriguing position on the Auburn roster. And on Saturday night, the role became even more fascinating.
Former Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who was deemed the No. 1 junior college recruit by the 247Sports Composite, committed to the Tigers.
So what does his addition mean for current Auburn quarterbacks? For head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee? Most importantly, what will his arrival mean for the future of the program?
Stidham will enroll on the Plains in January. That’s when the real fun begins.
The year after Malzahn held the longest positon battle of his collegiate coaching career Stidham, sophomore Sean White, junior college transfer John Franklin III, as well as redshirt freshman Tyler Queen and freshman Woody Barrett will face off to lead the Tigers into 2017.
Yet regardless of who takes the first snap next September one thing is certain: the Tigers will finally have a backup.
The indecision about who would take over for an injured Sean White through Auburn’s last few games of the season resulted in an erratic rotation of senior Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III.
As Stidham, White, and other quarterbacks compete through the spring, roles should become clear and any uncertainty about who will step in if needed should disappear.
The arrival of the Texas, native should raise the play of Auburn’s quarterback unit collectively. Every player who hopes to win the job will need to be on their game every chance they get.
It also will put leadership ability on display. Stidham will come in and try to win over new teammates while White, Franklin and others will try to remind current teammates why they were entrusted under center in the first place.
For Queen and Barrett, there’s no more time to learn or adjust to Auburn’s system. At this point they’ll have a slight advantage having been in meeting rooms and on the sidelines for a season — what they know and have learned has never been more important.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Stidham will likely be the front runner through the Spring season. His size and speed make him a more versatile player to run Malzahn’s read option and will give the Tigers flexibility and tempo on offense.
While Stidham’s arm strength and accuracy should mean Auburn will take more chances through the air — giving the Tigers young, talented receivers more chances to make plays — his stature also makes him more prepared to take hits from SEC defenders.
The options and the first downs should be consistent instead of lacking.
Of course, there is a chance current Auburn quarterbacks could leave at some point after the new year. Following Auburn’s Iron Bowl loss, Franklin said he was on track to graduate early and would discuss any moves with his family. It’s some for Tiger fans to be on the lookout for.
For Auburn’s coaching staff…
Stidham’s commitment also cooled down the potentially hot seat of Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee.
Auburn’s biggest issues through this season were at quarterback. Yet the coaching staff managed to provide an ideal solution with nearly a month to go until its bowl game — what more can Auburn fans ask for?
In some ways, however, all of the pressure now falls on Lashlee. If he continues to call plays as he did for most of the season, he’ll have the pieces he needs to field a dominant, multitalented offense. Freshmen will have experience and coaching staff slip ups will be inexcusable.
Will Stidham’s arrival translate into wins?
So could 2017 be a different year for the Tigers? Will Stidham’s arrival give the second-best team in the SEC West the ability to beat Georgia? An opportunity to compete with the Crimson Tide?
There’s at least an increased chance.
Auburn played well enough defensively to win the games the four games they lost in 2016.
The game between the hedges in Athens and the Iron Bowl are potentially different games if the Tigers have any momentum or options to move the ball offensively.
Nagging injuries to running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson hurt matters, but the quarterback debacle was the costliest. Perhaps Auburn’s improved defense plays better if they aren’t on the field for over 40 minutes.
Heading into 2017, the possibilities are endless for the Auburn Tigers.