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Auburn football began the Hugh Freeze era with questions at quarterback ahead of 2023. Although the uncertainty remains on The Plains, the bigger picture is starting to become more clear.
Robby Ashford, a former four-star recruit who began his career at Oregon, transferred to the SEC in 2022 and played in all 12 games for the Tigers last fall. T.J. Finley was behind him and the two split time in four games. Class of 2022 four-star Holden Geriner is also on the roster, and attempted just three passes last season, but has reportedly made some strides in his second year.
If nothing was to change between last year and this year, Ashford would likely start at quarterback for Auburn in Freeze’s first season with the program. Geriner could also make a push.
However, things are already starting to change.
First and foremost, Freeze and the Tigers were after a transfer quarterback during the first portal period back in December and January. They missed on both Grayson McCall and Spencer Sanders, but the wheels were already turning.
Secondly, neither Ashford nor Finley nor Geriner had a standout spring. The staff was not particularly impressed by any of their guys, and their collective (shortened, rain-soaked) spring game performance was more of a question mark than an exclamation point. None of the three confidently won the starting job.
As a result, Auburn went shopping again.
Casey Thompson, the former four-star Texas commit who spent last year at Nebraska, was on campus over the weekend into Monday. His parents were with him.
Thompson dealt with a shoulder injury that kept him out of spring ball in Lincoln, which is the first order of business. Assuming that he is healthy, though, there appears to be mutual interest.
For the Tigers, Thompson’s health was a big point of emphasis. For Thompson, it was about how he liked the program, his position on the depth chart and all of that typical recruiting visit stuff.
Considering that Thompson is from Oklahoma, he is likely familiar with Auburn offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, who was previously the head coach at Tulsa. But is it the right fit?
In the age the transfer portal, a commitment could come as soon as tomorrow, as late as July, or never.
As of this writing, Thompson does not have another known visit on the schedule. That could be a sign that he’s headed to the SEC, or it could mean that he’s taking his time.
Beyond Thompson, former Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne has been linked to the Tigers. He has yet to get an offer or visit, so it’s more speculation than anything.
One in, one out?
Although nothing definitive has been said about Thompson, Thorne, or any other quarterback, the writing may be on the wall. Finley hit the transfer portal as a graduate transfer on Tuesday.
The timing of the announcement is intriguing. He was still battling with Ashford for the starting job this fall, though this could be an indication that Finley was going to end up as the No. 2 and got ahead of the opportunity to seek a new opportunity to earn the starting job at another program during fall camp.
If I were to leave, it would not be because of the portal or competition, it would be simply because another school has a better situation for me and my family. I am here right now. We will see what happens with conversations with the coaches over the next couple of weeks.— T.J. Finley on the Locked-On the SEC Podcast back in April
Finley’s decision to leave may be as simple as he said. It could also mean that Thompson is on the way, seeing that he bounced on the day after the former Big-12 quarterback’s visit wrapped.
Either way, things are starting to take shape. Ashford and Geriner are the only quarterbacks left with a chance to win the starting job, but Auburn remains open to adding a third before the fall and it sounds like Thompson is their top target right now.