With the first day in full pads today, it seems like a good time to focus on the position that’s garnered the most offseason attention on the Plains — the quarterback spot.
There’s good reason for the buzz. There are two guys vying for the starting job: one, the incumbent starter with the power of the papacy behind him...
...and the other, the hotshot new guy, high-fivin’ and free-wheelin’ with the laser-rocket arm.
Sean White and Jarrett Stidham will vie for the starting gig in Chip Lindsey’s new offense, which promises to be heavier in the passing game than Auburn fans have probably seen in a couple decades. Malik Willis, the freshman from Roswell, will also take a fair amount of snaps in the fall, but this really is a two-man race at the moment.
And according to many, Stidham’s already won the job. Chip Lindsey won’t humor that kind of talk yet, as he’s worried about, you know, installing an offense and stuff. Still, we’ll begin with a look at Stidham as we go over Auburn’s three possible quarterbacks for this season.
Coming out of high school, Jarrett Stidham was the top-rated quarterback (either pro-style or dual-threat) by 247. You know the tale -- he signed with Baylor and enjoyed some solid success his freshman year after Seth Russell got injured. Stidham threw for over 1200 yards, with a 12-2 TD-INT ratio and a QB rating of 199.0 before he transferred out after the scandal exploded in Waco. Pretty solid numbers though in his time running the Briles offense. He’s got the size and the fantastic arm strength to make any throw on the field, and he’s the obvious favorite since he also possesses the escapability that can make him a dangerous guy should the pocket break down.
Injuries have been the main bugaboo on Sean White’s resume, but Stidham’s 2015 season ended after a chipped ankle bone sent him to the bench. He also nursed back and hand injuries while still playing late into the Baylor season.
Stidham will be going up against a guy who wasn’t such a lowly recruit out of high school either. Sean White was one of the top fifteen quarterbacks in the country when he graduated, and had scholarship offers from a ton of big-time schools. Like we mentioned above, White’s problem while at Auburn has been his inability to stay healthy. Injuries in 2015 and 2016 kept him out of important ballgames at the end of the year. To be honest, if he plays the entire game against Clemson last year, Auburn likely wins that game. You’ve got to believe that White’s good for an extra touchdown against the Tigers in that game.
White got his first start against Mississippi State in 2015 after Jeremy Johnson became an interception machine, and he played alright, but didn’t throw a touchdown pass until the Ole Miss game several weeks later. Then last year he sustained an injury against Ole Miss and John Franklin started the next game against Vanderbilt, leading to a near-defeat at the hands of the Commodores. White would then try to play at Georgia, but his arm was clearly hampered, and Auburn was held without a first down in the second half.
That said, a healthy Sean White led the Auburn offense to a stretch in the middle of last season in which the Tigers put up over 550 yards three times, including two 600 yard performances. When he was at his best, the Auburn offense clicks. That’s for sure. And now he’s added some muscle in the offseason, which will hopefully protect him a bit better from injury. Either way, it’s a good thing that neither he nor Stidham will be live until the first snap against Georgia Southern. Gus has seen this happen two years in a row now, and he’d like to enjoy a full season with a healthy quarterback.
SO WHAT HAPPENS?
If I had to bet, obviously I’d put my money on Stidham. I don’t think that’s a stretch or much of a surprise. He’s much more talented, and in terms of learning the offense, he and White are on equal footing. Stidham’s got an actual NFL arm, an attribute that Sean White just can’t match. It almost feels like one of those situations as well where everyone expects Stidham to win the job, so if White does go out there on opening night, the entire stadium will wilt in disappointment. That kind of nervous buzz and energy absolutely transfers down to the team on the field, and we don’t want that.
Barring injury (please, God), it’s Stidham’s to lose at this point.
NEXT IN LINE
Freshman quarterback Malik Willis is also still technically in the quarterback race, but he’s a longshot (again, barring injury). However, it’s not too terrible to have a guy waiting in the wings that reminds a good portion of the team of former quarterback Nick Marshall. Who knows how he’ll develop in Chip Lindsey’s offense, but he had a good spring. He definitely needs to add some muscle before he’s able to take the full-time beating of being a quarterback in the SEC, but he could be an exciting option should the situation somehow arise.