Since being hired last December, Gus Malzahn has promised a “New Day” for the Auburn Tigers who, at 3-9 last season, somehow managed to actually play worse than their woeful record, getting blown out by most SEC foes.
For the Tigers, the dawn will truly begin no later than Monday, which Malzahn has given as the deadline for naming the next starting quarterback for the Orange and Blue.
Last season, it was the pairing of sophomore Kiehl Frazier and freshman Jonathan Wallace at the helm for the Tigers. Fittingly, both are already out of the quarterback competition, and Frazier has even moved to safety.
Remaining in the competition are the two new faces: Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson.
Marshall is coming off a season in junior college where he put up huge numbers, throwing for 3,142 yards while rushing for 1,095. The signal caller is considered an incredible athlete, yet he threw for 20 interceptions in his first season playing quarterback since his senior year in high school.
The junior took an interesting route to Auburn. Marshall signed with the Georgia Bulldogs out of high school, and started as a defensive back as a true freshman. When he had off-the-field issues, he transferred out to junior college in Kansas, returned to the quarterback position, and ultimately signed with Auburn when Gus Malzahn was hired on as the head coach of the Tigers.
Competing with Marshall for the starting spot is Johnson, the true freshman. At 6’5″, 235lbs., Johnson brings a bit more bulk to the position that the smaller, speedier Marshall. Nevertheless, the former four star recruit out of Carver High School in Montgomery, AL is plenty athletic. In addition to winning the Mr. Football award in Alabama, Johnson was also named Mr. Basketball.
Both quarterbacks have excelled thus far in fall camp, and both have proven to have the attributes needed to run the heralded Malzahn offense. Both also provide coveted dynamic dual threat ability.
Now, Malzahn must simply choose.
“It could be (Friday), it could be the next day, Saturday or Sunday, any
time before next Monday would be really good for us,” Malzahn said following Thursday’s morning practice. “But like I’ve said before, we’re
not for sure.”
For the Tigers’ coach, the sooner he picks a quarterback, the better prepared his team will be for their August 31 match-up against Washington State, and the stronger they will be as they begin their road to redemption.
“You want as much as possible,” Malzahn said. “Ideally, it would have
been a week ago and you get three weeks, but the earlier the better.”
While all observers expect growing pains for the Tigers, there is an undeniable optimism on The Plains. Many feel that either Marshall or Johnson gives them a chance to win games that were out of reach a year ago, particularly when they are bolstered by a backfield that includes returning 1,000 yard rusher Tre Mason as well as junior college addition Cameron Artis-Payne who many feel has All-SEC potential.
Auburn also returns an experienced offensive line, and a defense loaded with former high school standouts who have yet to live up to their potential. These factors make Auburn an intriguing “surprise team” for the 2013 season, and, as one of only two teams to win a national championship in the last four years, they are well worth watching in Gus Malzahn’s inaugural season.
Follow Cole Muzio @ColeMuzio for college football insights and analysis