Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re biased.

If you’re an Auburn fan, the addition of Payton Thorne absolutely trumped Alabama adding Tyler Buchner. If you’re an Alabama fan, it’s the other way around and there’s no debate about it.

Let’s be honest, though. Both Alabama and Auburn are, at the very least, unsettled at the quarterback position. Post-spring quarterback additions for teams with new offensive coordinators isn’t typically the preferred route.

It does, however, bring up a question that’s worth asking for the first time in at least 5 years — who has the better quarterback room in the state of Alabama?

It’s challenging to isolate some variables here because obviously, Alabama and Auburn aren’t dealing with the exact same surroundings. They have different play-callers, different offensive lines, different pass-catchers, etc.

Let’s break down who has the better situation while trying to control as many of those outside variables as possible:

Depth — Alabama

I mean, we’re talking about an Alabama team with 5 scholarship quarterbacks, all of whom were considered blue-chip recruits. Alabama has a legitimate 3-way battle heading into fall camp. There’s a decent chance that as we sit here in early-May, your personal projected starting QB ends up being the third-stringer. Ty Simpson, Jalen Milroe and Buchner all have the traits necessary to execute Tommy Rees’ offense, which demands a true dual-threat signal-caller.

Auburn, meanwhile, feels like it’s just Thorne against Robby Ashford. That’s not to dismiss Holden Geriner, but given the fact that the Tigers now have 2 guys with legitimate Power 5 reps, it does feel like a true 2-way battle. It’s fair to question if Ashford can execute the type of offense that Freeze wants to run. The accuracy issues plagued Auburn’s passing game last year, though part of that could’ve been attributed to the lack of receiver depth.

I view depth as which program is better prepared for a catastrophic injury situation. As in, who could possibly stomach multiple injuries to the starting quarterback and have the best chance to keep things moving? Alabama gets the nod there, regardless of who that third-string guy ends up being.

Experience — Auburn

You’ve got 35 starts at the Power 5 level between Auburn’s top 2 signal-callers compared to 4 for Alabama. This isn’t much of a debate. Of those 35 starts, 26 of them came from Thorne, who had plenty of high-leverage situations he was a part of in 2021 when he helped lead Michigan State to a comeback win against Pitt in the Peach Bowl. That was for an 11-win team. Thorne alone tips the scales in Auburn’s favor.

But let’s not discount the Ashford part of this. Getting him 9 starts, even amidst a lost season, could be extremely valuable for Freeze down the road. While he spoke about how incomplete that sample size was, we at least got to see some of Ashford’s weaknesses after his first 2 springs at Oregon were spent playing baseball. Nine starts is still significant. It’s more than twice as many starts as Alabama’s entire quarterback room.

That’s not to say Jalen Milroe is totally inexperienced entering Year 3. He was thrown into the fire last year when Bryce Young went down in the first half against Arkansas, and he had an up-and-down start in a nail-biter against Texas A&M. Still, though. Milroe (1) and Buchner (3) have a combined 4 starts. Buchner might also be a Year 3 guy who was tabbed as Notre Dame’s starter entering 2022, but remember that he didn’t exactly load up on reps the last 5 years of his high school and college career:

  • Sophomore HS: Torn ACL on 4th play of season
  • Junior HS: Led nation with 6,084 total yards and 81 total TDs
  • Senior HS: Canceled because of COVID
  • Freshman college: Backup to Jack Coan, attempted 35 passes
  • Sophomore college: QB1, but missed rest of regular season after Week 2 shoulder injury

Yes, Buchner got valuable experience with a comeback victory against South Carolina in the TaxSlayer Bowl, but I’d argue that Thorne’s comeback (and victory) for a post-Kenneth Walker opt-out Michigan State team in the 2021 Peach Bowl was a coming-of-age moment, too.

Auburn wins this category without a ton of pushback.

Upside — Alabama

To be clear, I don’t really think Buchner or Thorne have tremendous upside. I’m not a believer that post-spring quarterback additions are set up to step in and set the world on fire. If they’re the starter at their respective programs, I wouldn’t set the expectation at an All-SEC level. Even Joe Burrow didn’t play at an All-SEC level after his post-spring transfer to LSU in 2018, and that was with a young Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase on his team.

While I believe Buchner’s legs are a legitimate weapon, he and Thorne made too many mistakes during their starts to make me think they’d suddenly flip that switch with new surroundings (especially where game-changing receivers have yet to emerge).

So I’ll instead default to the returners. The Milroe-Simpson combination has more upside than Ashford. At least at this stage of their careers. Ashford’s passing issues became such a liability that Auburn was essentially a service academy once Cadillac Williams took over as the interim coach. In that final month, Auburn averaged 19.5 passing attempts for 4.3 yards per pass. Woof.

If Freeze was totally sold on Ashford’s passing progression, I don’t think he would’ve been as open as he was about dipping into the portal and eventually landing Thorne.

Milroe struggled with ball security issues throwing out of the pocket last year in that A&M start, but I’ve seen the upside with his legs (that Arkansas run last year was something else) and I don’t think the accuracy is such a liability like it is with Ashford. Same with Simpson. He doesn’t have the starting experience, but there’s a bit more intrigue with some of the unknown of a 5-star guy who flashed true dual-threat ability in Alabama’s spring game. I know. It was a spring game, and it was a spring game that prompted Alabama to dip into the portal.

But consider this. If you’re putting down a bet on a Heisman winner today, and if I gave you Simpson/Milroe or Ashford at the same odds, who are you taking? It’s the Alabama combination, and you’re not thinking twice about it.

So … which QB room would I want? I’ll take Alabama’s, but it’s at least a question

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but if I had a schoolyard pick of Ashford, Thorne, Simpson, Buchner and Milroe, I’d probably go with Simpson. Based on what we’ve heard and seen, his skill set is still best suited to succeed in the SEC this year. He’s got to eliminate some of that Bo Nix-like tendency to get flushed out of the pocket when the pressure isn’t there, but that should come with reps. Couple that with his ability to make downfield throws while providing a key presence with his legs and yes, I think Simpson has the most tools to work with.

That’s why I’d go with Alabama. You can roll the dice on the intriguing unknown of Simpson or Milroe, and then potentially turn to Buchner, who knows Rees’ offense well. They lack experience, but in a weird way, that might’ve hurt Auburn in this argument because we’ve seen the ill-advised throws that Thorne and Ashford have been prone to making.

Freeze might only have 1 guy (Thorne) who can execute the offense with the balance he needs right now. Alabama should have 3 potential options who can at least give the Reese offense a chance, including the 1 who might have the most upside in Simpson.

Of course, the expectations are wildly different. Alabama’s last 4 quarterbacks have either been a Heisman finalist or an SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Auburn, meanwhile, is just trying to post a top-40 passing offense for the first time in the 21st century.

Maybe the tide will turn in Auburn’s favor at some point in 2023. For now, though, I’ll roll the dice on Alabama’s quarterback room.