Auburn's quarterbacks were a huge liability in 2012, and they will likely receive the most attention from coaches, media and fans during the Tigers' spring practice.
In 2010, Cam Newton had the best season by any quarterback in Auburn history -- nay, the best season by any quarterback in college football history -- recording 51 total touchdowns and 4,369 all-purpose yards en route to a Heisman Trophy and national championship. Last year, it was a bit of a different story, as Kiehl Frazier, Clint Moseley and Jonathan Wallace played major roles in running the Tigers' offense into the ground. Does Auburn have any hope for success at the QB position going forward?
The New Arrivals
Those stats that Newton compiled in 2010? Yeah, that was the top end of the spectrum. Auburn quarterbacks in 2012 not only found the bottom end, they fell through through the floor. Frazier, Moseley and Wallace combined to complete 60.1 percent of their passes for 1,846 yards, seven touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The Tigers ranked 13th in the SEC with 156.6 passing yards per game, and their 117.2 quarterback ranking ranked 12th. Honestly, it's incredible that they didn't finish dead last in both categories.
In case you blacked the memory out of your mind with alcohol and/or hard drugs, we'll remind you that Frazier began the season as Auburn's starter, playing in a pro-style system for the first time in his life. As could have been expected -- but, for some reason, wasn't by most fans -- he struggled badly. Frazier opened the year with a mediocre-at-best performance against Clemson -- 11-of-27, 194 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT -- and it only went downhill from their. He went on to throw for 125 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions in Week 2 at Mississippi State, and he compiled a 54.3 completion percentage, 664 yards, two scores and eight interceptions before finally being pulled in favor of Moseley at halftime against Arkansas. Even with great athleticism and speed, Frazier was never much of a threat on the ground, totaling -9 yards without a touchdown before losing the starting job.
While Moseley was better than Frazier, he certainly wasn't a game-changer, and by the time he took over, the offense was in too much disarray for him to make any difference. In two and a half games against Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, Moseley completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 373 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He left the Texas A&M game -- boy, wasn't that one fun? -- after one pass due to an injury, and the Tigers decided to go with Wallace for the rest of the way. The true freshman showed the most promise of any signal-caller in 2012, but like Moseley, he couldn't make the difference on an offense that was already in the trash heap. In the final five games of the year, Wallace completed 57.0 percent of his passes for 709 yards, four touchdowns and four picks, and he rushed for 117 yards on 37 carries.
The race for the starting quarterback job is
probably definitely the most wide-open contest going into spring, and each candidate brings his pros and cons. Frazier was originally recruited by Gus Malzahn and is familiar with his offense, but after last season, he may be too mentally damaged to perform. Wallace played well in the final few games of 2012, but as skilled as he is, he isn't the most athletic player trying to win the No. 1 role. In the fall, Jeremy Johnson, Nick Marshall and Jason Smith will join the fray. Johnson is supremely talented and was a key member of the 2013 recruiting class, but he better fits a pro-style system. Marshall brings athleticism -- maybe the best of any QB on the roster -- and JUCO experience, but he probably has the least amount of raw talent of the group -- at least, as a quarterback. Smith is a highly-rated athlete and put up good numbers at McGill Toolen last season -- 2,473 total yards, 33 TDs -- but most recruitniks projected him as a wide receiver, the position he played in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic, and he might not have the size to withstand the beating a read-option quarterback takes in the SEC.
This may sound crazy, but Frazier is likely the leader right now. Yes, he was awful last season, and yes, he seems to always be one mistake away from losing all confidence in himself and shutting down. But, Frazier was totally uncomfortable in Scot Loeffler's offense, and with Malzahn back on the Plains, he has a chance to run the attack he's been groomed to lead his entire football life. Don't forget: Frazier was a five-star recruit when he signed with Auburn out of high school. He certainly has the talent to be a star, and in Malzahn's offense, he will likely be much more comfortable and confident in his decision-making. Frazier stuck around after last season's nightmare for a reason, and it would be foolish to write him off.
While Frazier could be the favorite -- if you can call anyone a favorite right now -- Marshall is the long-term darkhorse that just might be the best investment for any bettors out there -- legal bettors, of course. He brings the skill set Malzahn wants in a quarterback, and if his JUCO stats from last season -- 285.6 passing yds/gm, 18 TDs; 99.5 rushing yds/gm, 19 TDs -- are any indication, he knows what he's doing at the position. However, his 57.1 completion percentage and 20 interceptions show that he may not be the most accurate thrower or best decision-maker. He has the wheels to run the offense, but just how well he can execute the passing game remains to be seen. If he picks up the offense quickly in fall camp and either Frazier or Wallace struggles as the starter, Marshall could be the man to step in.
Obviously, there's no safe bet right now regarding the Auburn quarterback race, and it really wouldn't be a big surprise to see anyone take the job going into Week 1 in September. Barring some unforeseen outstanding play by Frazier or Wallace this spring, the competition should continue into the fall. But if Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee are worth their pay and can develop these players, the Tigers will have a QB that can return the offense from the depths of 2012 and make it more closely resemble the record-setting attacks of 2009 and '10.
Projected Two-Deep Entering Spring