Posted: 10:35 a.m. Friday, July 26, 2013
By Chris Fuhrmeister
Auburn's fall camp is just around the corner -- thank you football gods! -- which means real, on-field football news is finally going to reenter our lives. Obviously, the biggest storyline on the Plains will be the quarterback race, featuring Kiehl Frazier, Jeremy Johnson, Nick Marshall and Jonathan Wallace. Who will win the starting job, and will he be a major improvement over the abysmal QB play of 2012?
If he has an early, pre-camp favorite, head coach Gus Malzahn isn't showing his cards:
Gus on QBs: On Frazier: "lot of ability." On Wallace: "solid spring." On Johnson: "NFL arm." On Marshall: "Great arm" http://t.co/8cdlNJdWDL— Auburn Gold Mine (@AUGoldMine) July 25, 2013
Really riveting stuff there. While Gus might not be ready to comment publicly on who has an advantage in the quarterback competition, we can make an educated guess on how it plays out. From least likely to most likely to be named starter, the candidates are:
Johnson comes in with a ton of talent and plenty of accolades. He was a consensus four-star prospect in the Class of 2013, and as Malzahn indicated on ESPN earlier this week, has a big-time arm. As a senior at Carver-Montgomery last season, he completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,193 yards, 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Plus, he added 706 yards and seven scores on 105 carries. His career numbers at Carver: 63.8 percent, 8,325 yards, 80 TDs, 33 interceptions; 191 carries, 799 yards, 13 TDs.
The numbers are good, the measurables are great, the scouts love Johnson's talent and by all accounts, he has the head on his shoulders to match his ability. However, he's a true freshman. Yes, Wallace earned some starts late in 2012, but the season was already in flames and Gene Chizik was willing to try anything to put out the fire. Johnson may be Auburn's quarterback of the future, but if he sees significant snaps this season, there's a good chance the Tigers will be dealing with another disaster.
Frankly, we'd rather not think about Frazier for a while. He was one of the most prominent faces of the 2012 team, and the pain is still too raw. Just thinking about it can lead to a bad case of the shakes. Nevertheless, this post must go on.
The problem with Frazier isn't his skills. As a five-star recruit coming out of high school, he obviously has a ton of talent. Frazier's problem is a mental one. He simply doesn't possess the confidence to run an offense in the SEC. Whether or not that's a result of being forced into a foreign system under offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler last season, we'll never know. But whatever the reason, it holds Frazier back in a big way. He focuses entirely too much on his first read, and if it isn't open, he panics and shuts down, often resulting in a sack or poor throwing decision. What's worse is that Frazier appears to really beat himself up over his mistakes, which only further damages his confidence. The stats from last season tell an ugly story: 53.4 completion percentage, 753 yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions; 42 carries, -35 yards, zero scores in nine games.
We hoped to see a big change from Frazier in spring practice, playing in the system he's known most of his football life. But on A-Day, he appeared to be the same hesitant QB we say last season, which doesn't bode well for his prospects. Frazier just doesn't have it. It's a shame, because he seems like a good kid and his talent and skill set are perfect for Malzahn's offense. But unless he makes great strides in how he handles the game in his head, he won't live up to that talent.
If Wallace wins the starting job, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but it wouldn't exactly be the best thing, either. The best way to describe Wallace in terms of on-field play is with one word: "fine." He was the best quarterback of the three who played last season, but he wasn't the type of dynamic athlete Auburn fans hope to have taking snaps. He appeared in nine games, completing 57.5 percent of his passes for 720 yards, four TDs and four INTs, and he rushed 51 times for 152 yards without finding the end zone.
Malzahn says Wallace had a "great spring," but based on his performance during the spring game, great is a relative term. He looked better than Frazier, but some inaccuracy and bad decision making was alarming. In fact, it was a bit of a wake-up call. Because Wallace saw the field at the end of 2012 and outperformed Frazier and Clint Moseley, he looked better in Auburn fans' eyes than he actually was. With a fresh start, his showing on A-Day wasn't nearly as impressive.
The last time Auburn brought in a JUCO transfer quarterback who previously played at an SEC East school, it turned out pretty well -- actually, let's not even make those comparisons. There's no need to raise expectations for Marshall, which are already skyrocketing.
Marshall is definitely the fan favorite, probably because he wasn't around last year, and anything different is better. And when former teammate and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray says things like "(He) can throw a football farther than anyone I've ever seen in my life," it only fuels the hype for Marshall. In his career at Wilcox County (Ga.) High School, he completed 56.0 percent of his throws for 5,087 yards, 72 (!) touchdowns and 20 interceptions, and he gained 858 yards and 13 TDs on the ground. Running the offense at Garden City (Kan.) CC in 2012, he had a 57.1 completion percentage, 3,142 yards, 18 touchdowns and 20 interceptions, and 171 rushes for 1,095 yards and 19 scores in 11 games. While those 20 JUCO interceptions are worrisome, they were a result of Marshall attempting to single-handedly carry his offense.
But everyone should remember that Marshall has never played major college football, and we haven't even seen what he can do on the practice field. To assume he's just going to come in and blow everyone away may lead to a lot of disappointment. He appears to have a ton of talent and the right tools for Malzahn's attack, but if he's forced to do too much thanks to an unproven receiving corps, it will likely lead to high interception totals as it did at Garden City. Marshall should be able to win the job, and if he doesn't, Auburn's offense will face a rocky road. But let's not expect huge performances out of the QB just yet. He may lead the Tigers to an unexpected win or two, but he also may be the reason Auburn drops one or more games it shouldn't.
So that's our take; what do you think? It Marshall the clear-cut favorite, or will one of the other quarterbacks surprise in the weeks leading up to Week 1. Vote in our poll and give us your opinion in the comments.