Within a matter of just a few hours on Tuesday, the Auburn Tigers lost their starting quarterback and then whiffed on the prize graduate transfer coming out of the 2018 season.
Or did they?
After word spread that Jarrett Stidham is leaving early to test the waters of the NFL Draft, many believed that meant Kelly Bryant was heading for The Plains. Instead, Bryant shunned War Eagle in favor of Missouri.
The Clemson graduate transfer is perceived to be the grand prize in what is becoming a game of college football free agency where coveted athletes gain immediate eligibility at their new location.
But hold on a minute. There are still a couple of potential program-changing quarterbacks who haven’t declared yet but seem destined to be changing schools after this season. One in particular, who could be the coup of the century if indeed it materializes.
Jalen Hurts won’t be at Alabama next season. It’s a done deal, if you listen to The Paul Finebaum Show. He said as much during his three-hour weekday show on the SEC Network.
He didn’t say where Hurts was headed, but could the QB who guided the Tide to the National Championship Game a year ago, and just last week saved Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, be looking at their arch-rivals to finish out what has already been an illustrious college career?
Stranger things have happened. Well, maybe they haven’t, but outside of returning home to Houston, there wouldn’t be a more big-time program to play for than Auburn. And how much higher would that turn up the heat on the 2019 Iron Bowl, as if it needed any more fuel?
Another name that is popping up around Auburn is current Arizona QB Khalil Tate. But like Hurts, Tate has not made official any plans on leaving and it is still unclear when the Wildcats’ signal-caller would graduate.
It would seem certain that Auburn’s next offensive coordinator would have a lot to do with those potential decisions. Head coach Gus Malzahn must replace Chip Lindsey, who took a similar role with Les Miles’ new coaching staff at Kansas.
In any case, Auburn is in need of a veteran under center for the 2019 season. On the present roster, only sophomore Malik Willis has thrown more than one pass for the Tigers. Over the course of two seasons, Willis has thrown a total of 13 passes. The former 3-star dual-threat recruit out of Atlanta has appeared in seven games over each of the 2017 and 2018 campaigns in mop-up duty.
Willis threw a career-high 4 passes last season at Missouri. He tossed a season-high 3 passes this year against Liberty. He is 10-of-13 at Auburn for 64 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions, to go along with 257 yards rushing on 25 carries. Most of the rushing stats were compiled last season (16-221).
That’s pretty much the extent of experience among the current group of Auburn quarterbacks. True freshman Cord Sandberg, no relation to former MLB star Ryne Sandberg, is a 23-year-old former minor league baseball play with the Philadelphia Phillies organization. He appeared in one game this season, completing his only pass for 22 yards and rushed 3 times for 35 yards in the 63-9 victory over Alabama State.
He is a 4-star recruit from the 2018 Class, as is Joey Gatewood. Both are highly-regarded quarterbacks from the state of Florida. Gatewood is an imposing 6-5, 235-pounder, who did not play in a game this season after suffering a thumb injury during fall camp.
There is plenty of potential in that group, just not a lot of experience at the collegiate level.
Perhaps the next big thing at Auburn hasn’t even arrived on campus yet. Bo Nix, a 4-star commit from Pinson Valley, Ala., is set to graduate high school early and enroll at Auburn in January. He is Alabama’s all-time high school leader in total offense.
— Josh Bean (@jbeanpoll) December 1, 2018
The 6-2, 205-pound dual threat has thrown for more than 10,000 yards and rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his high school career. He has one game remaining, the 6A State Championship, which will be played fittingly enough at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Nix has 158 total touchdowns, two shy of the state record.
WOW! I definitely had the best seat in the house for a record-breaking throw! Pinson Valley QB Bo Nix to @demarionhollom1! @bo_nix10 becomes the state of Alabama's all-time leader in total yards! UNREAL ACHIEVEMENT for the future Auburn Tiger! @Pinson_Football @AHSAA_football pic.twitter.com/mjlPwaPjLA
— Simone Eli (@SimoneEli_TV) December 1, 2018
Nix is the son of former Auburn QB Patrick Nix, who is also his head coach at Pinson Valley High.
So with or without a big-name graduate transfer coming to Auburn, the Tigers appear stacked at the quarterback position. It is now a matter of developing that talent and getting it ready for this level of competition.
For sure, this will be an interesting off season for the quarterback position at Auburn.