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4.14.23 Football Articles


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Auburn football listed as a team to watch for a bounce-back season in 2023

Jack Singley
~3 minutes

Athlon Sports says Auburn is one of five teams ready to bounce back.

Auburn has the potential to break through into contention in the 2023 season, and Athlon Sports recognizes this potential. The site mentioned Auburn as one of its five teams to watch in the 2023 season. 

Auburn along with another SEC school, Texas A&M, are mentioned. The reason A&M is on the list is similar to that of Auburn, a revamped coaching staff along with key acquisitions in the portal lead to a potentially promising Aggie season. Specifically for the Aggies, new Offensive Coordinator Bobby Petrino will look to work his magic on Conner Weigman and the rest of the A&M offense. 

Auburn under the helm of a completely new staff that is headed up by Hugh Freeze was tabbed for a rebound season due to the SEC experience that Freeze has and the aggressive acquisitions they have made during the portal windows. 

Freeze and staff managed to grab the third-best portal class in the country according to 247Sports. The headliners of the class are Rivaldo Fairweather, Payton Thorne, Brian Battie, and a handful of offensive linemen that all look to start for the Tigers. It is hard to imagine that a 5-7 team that won two of its five games with an interim head coach could turn it around in just one year, but with this new age of college football, it has become clear that a one-year turnaround is not a pipe dream. 

The coaching improvement itself will also lead to a much more improved on-field product. Freeze and Offensive Coordinator Philip Montgomery got their man in Payton Thorne and will look to scheme around his strengths and lead to a much more improved offense compared to the Harsin-led offense that ended up with one of the worst scoring offenses in the SEC. The defense under new Defensive Coordinator Ron Roberts will also look to improve from their bottom-half finish in both stopping the run and total points allowed. 

The list rounded out with Miami, Nebraska, and Oklahoma being listed as the non-SEC teams expected to perform well following a letdown season in 2022.

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Playoffs? CBS Sports says Auburn has a chance

Taylor Jones
3–4 minutes

The SEC has dominated the College Football Playoff since its’ inaugural season in 2015. The conference has been represented every season and has won six of the nine possible championships, including the last four.

Alabama, Georgia, and LSU have all reached the top of the college football world by winning a College Football Playoff championship, but CBS Sports feels that a new member of the SEC could make a run to the 2024 playoffs.

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Shehan Jeyarajah of CBS Sports recently shared his picks for “dark horse” candidates for each of the Power Five conferences. His pick for the SEC? The Auburn Tigers.

Jeyarajah chose teams with 50-1 odds to make the College Football Playoff or lower by Caesars Sportsbook as part of his criteria. At 100-1 odds, the Tigers are a risky, yet interesting pick.

Picking an SEC squad is especially difficult as five teams are excluded from consideration. So ultimately, we’re going way off the board and betting on Hugh Freeze to be a wild card in the SEC West with a revitalized staff and dynamic energy. The path through the SEC — which includes Alabama and Georgia — makes things more complicated, but it also presents a major opportunity.

The Tigers ranked No. 18 in 247Sports Talent Composite in 2022, far ahead of their 5-7 results. Furthermore, Auburn fortified the passing game by adding veteran Michigan State signal caller Payton Thorne and Ohio State wide receiver transfer Caleb Burton. A fresh coaching staff and key pieces in the passing game could lead to a quick turnaround if Freeze can get everyone on the same page.

Although the Tigers appear to have improved drastically based on talent acquisition alone, Auburn still has “long shot” odds to win the College Football Playoff National Championship. BetMGM, like Caesars, gives Auburn 100-1 odds to win, while FanDuel gives the Tigers 200-1 odds.

Contact/Follow us @TheAuburnWire on Twitter, and like our page on Facebook to follow ongoing coverage of Auburn news, notes, and opinion. You can also follow Taylor on Twitter @TaylorJones__

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Jamonta Waller, 5-star LB out of Mississippi, drops overwhelmingly SEC-filled top 10

Ethan Stone
1–2 minutes

Jamonta Waller, the No. 1 prep player out of Mississippi, has cut his list to 10.

One thing seems pretty clear: Waller wants to play in the SEC. The 5-star linebacker included 9 SEC teams on his list, including Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. As if for representation’s sake alone, Waller is also considering Penn State.

He dropped his top 10 Saturday afternoon.

247Sports is especially high on Waller. The service ranks him as the N0. 22 overall player in the Class of 2024, as well as the No. 5 pass rusher and the No. 1 player out of Mississippi. Kamarion Franklin, a defensive lineman out of Lake Cormorant, is considered the No. 1 player in the state according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, however.

Speaking of Mississippi, Rebels fans might want to keep an eye on Waller. Ole Miss is considered the favorite for his services, though he has several official visits scheduled for this remainder of the summer.

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Looking at Auburn’s cornerbacks and safeties after spring football

  • Published: May. 12, 2023, 5:15 p.m.

Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze, and his group of defensive coaches inherited a secondary unit mixed with experience and youth.

Nehemiah Pritchett (cornerback), Zion Puckett (strong safety), DJ James (cornerback), Jaylin Simpson (free safety), and Keionte Scott (cornerback) make a formidable starting unit in the Tigers’ defensive backfield. Donovan Kaufman and J.D. Rhym are talented players that will also look upon to make plays for the secondary.

Confidence in the starters was a consistent theme during spring camp through the rain-shortened A-Day scrimmage. On the flip side, the confidence may also need to transition into good health for a unit that may not be where they’d like to be depth-wise, as illustrated by defensive coordinator Ron Roberts.

“I’m going to be honest with you; we don’t have a lot of depth in the secondary; that’s probably the biggest one right now. I think we have linebackers, I think we can get into three deep right now,” Roberts told reporters during the third week of spring football. “Maybe not, but there’s probably five. There’s probably five of them that I think are going to get there.”

James was a second-team All-SEC corner last season. He had one interception that he ran for a touchdown in the win against Western Kentucky and tied with Pritchett for the team lead with eight pass breakups. Pritchett and James are the likely starters at the right and left corners.

Freshmen Austin Ausberry (redshirt), Kayin Lee, Colton Hood, and Tyler Scott will be in the mix for reps to spell James and Pritchett.

Puckett and Simpson appear to be the safety duo when the Tigers open the season against UMass in September at Jordan-Hare. Simpson finished the season strong with two interceptions, breaking up three passes, and had 17 tackles over the last four games of the 2022 season. Etheridge expressed excitement about the potential for Simpson to improve.

“You can see that as the season went on, he got better and better, and now I think he found himself that home that he can come out every day and control the defense,” Etheridge said. He can be a Sunday player if he holds onto everything that goes in football off the field. Just seeing his range, his athleticism, his ability to play man-to-man in the slot, the things that he can do, he can tackle well. So, his upside at that position is through the roof if he embraces it and studies the game as he should.”

Cayden Bridges and Caleb Wooden are safeties looking for opportunities to contribute to Roberts’ defense. Auburn has 79 scholarship athletes on the team, which leaves room for the Tigers to sign six players before the season starts. Don’t be shocked to see the Tigers try to find another defensive back in the portal. Either way, Roberts has high hopes for the Tiger defense headed into the fall.

“We’re at Auburn, and I expect us to start No. 1, maybe top-20 defense in the country,” Roberts said. “We’re at Auburn, and there’s certain expectations you’re going put on the helmet. That’s what it should be like, and you should expect to perform at that level.”

Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.

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Reviewing Auburn’s wide receiver group after spring football

Published: May. 11, 2023, 5:10 p.m.
~4 minutes

During spring practice, Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze didn’t mince words when reporters asked him which position groups needed more help than others in development.

“I think the two positions that stand out to me right now of we just have a long way to go is the quarterback room and the wide receiver room,” Freeze told reporters. “Not saying we’ve arrived at other spots yet, but those are the farthest off because they’re probably the most — we ask them to do the most.”

Freeze and new receivers coach Marcus Davis inherited a receiver room without much proven talent. Ja’Varrious Johnson had 26 receptions with a team-leading 493 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Koy Moore was second on the team with 314 yards on 20 catches and scored a touchdown.

Johnson and Davis are the only returning receivers with 10 or more catches last season for an offense that was statistically one of the worst in college football at 117th in passing efficiency and 119th in passing yards per game.

Camden Brown showed promise as a freshman last season. He racked up nine catches and two touchdowns with 123 yards. The 6-foot-3 receiver from Tampa, FL exudes confidence in the receiver group, improving under offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery in a RPO-based offense.

“It goes back to the questions with how there’s all the hate on the receivers — right now, we’ve all gotta change the narrative,” Brown told reporters. “That’s what the main focus is right now. As with anything, we have to change the narrative with the quarterback, receiver, and O-line situations. We’ve all gotta change the narrative around everything. Changing the narrative is the main topic right now.”

Tar’Varish Dawson caught two passes for 30 yards last season in four games. He arrived at Auburn in the 2021 class with lots of promise as 4-star recruit. Dawson went through spring camp but entered the portal on April 15, when the spring window opened for transfers. He signed with Colorado despite showing potential as a speedy receiver with a 39-yard catch from Robby Ashford during the A-Day scrimmage.

Landen King was also part of the 2021 class and left the program after spring football. He converted from tight end to receiver but struggled to find consistency. This week, he announced he was headed to Utah.

Nick Mardner caught 19 passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns at Cincinnati last season. He arrived on the Plains for spring football. A positive sign could be his success at Hawaii in 2021 with Davis as his receivers coach. Mardner had over 900 receiving yards and five touchdowns, with nearly 50 receptions working with Davis.

Auburn added former Ohio State wideout Caleb Burton. He didn’t get on the field at Ohio State as a freshman last season as the Buckeyes were loaded wide receiver groups. Burton is one of several receivers, including Omari Kelly, Jay Fair, Malcolm Johnson Jr, Daquayvious Sorey, and JC Hart, looking to become go-to receivers for the Tigers.

“Obviously, he was one of the top receivers in the country, went to Ohio State — that room is loaded there — so we base that off of his high school tape and we’re basically getting a freshman,” Freeze said. “T one made sense because his high school tape was pretty dang good.”

Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.

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Georgia analyst calls current Auburn QB room ‘bit of a predicament’

Andrew Hughes
3–4 minutes

Dawgs Daily's Jonathan Williams called the Auburn football quarterback room a 'bit of a predicament' ahead of the 2022 season Mandatory Credit: The Montgomery Advertiser

Dawgs Daily's Jonathan Williams called the Auburn football quarterback room a 'bit of a predicament' ahead of the 2022 season Mandatory Credit: The Montgomery Advertiser


Dawgs Daily’s Jonathan Williams believes that even after Auburn football landed Michigan State transfer portal quarterback Payton Thorne, the Tigers still find themselves in a “bit of a predicament” under center ahead of the 2023 season.

“The Auburn Tigers also find themselves in a bit of a predicament at quarterback,” Williams prefaced before saying, “The Tigers brought in former Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne from the portal and then saw their own quarterback, TJ Finley, hit the portal to seek a new school. Now the Tigers’ position battle appears to be between Thorne and Robert Ashford, who appeared in 12 games last season as a Freshman and served as the starter for a while as well.”

Finley was long expected to reach the portal upon graduating in the spring, though instead of landing in Columbus with Ohio State as his social media activity seemed to think was possible, the Ponchatoula, Louisiana native ended up in the Sun Belt with Texas State — and he could end up being a third-string QB at the Group of Five level according to CBS Sports’ Shehan Jeyarajah.

Ashford comes into a second season having dramatically improved after Bryan Harsin was fired and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams took over. Ashford had one of his worst performances against Georgia in 2022, completing just 13 of his 38 passes for 165 passing yards and an interception, but Williams overlooked the massive strides No. 9 made as the season progressed.

Payton Thorne is why there is no predicament in the Auburn football QB room

Where Williams particularly misses the mark is in writing off the Thorne commitment as one that doesn’t solve many of the problems Auburn football had at quarterback during the 2022 season. Thorne most certainly took a step back in 2022 (2,679 passing yards, 19 touchdowns) after a stellar 2021 campaign (3,232 passing yards, 27 touchdowns), but Michigan State did also lose talent in the offensive trenches. Kenneth Walker’s departure also left Thorne with plenty more responsibilities and fewer openings created through the run game.

Hugh Freeze built a sturdy veteran offensive line ahead of Thorne and inherited a talented RB room he only made better with the addition of Brian Battie. Thorne is set up for success and brings far more big-game experience and arm talent than what the Tigers had in 2022.

If anything, with the weapons he has in tow, Thorne is the anti-predicament on the Plains under center.

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Paul Finebaum shares expectations for Auburn after latest transfer portal additions

Keith Farner
~3 minutes

Paul Finebaum joined WJOX and “McElroy and Cubelic In the morning” to discuss the latest Auburn additions from the transfer portal.

The Tigers in recent days have added former Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne, App State pass rusher Jalen McLeod and Ohio State wide receiver Caleb Burton. Cole Cubelic asked Finebaum if his opinion about Auburn has changed since these players joined the program.

“I think Auburn fans should be jumping for joy today,” Finebaum said. “Last week was great. The quarterback pickup, what was the downside? You can quibble about Michigan State’s production, quibble about anything, but at the worst, he’s an alternative, and at the best, he’s your starter and has a lot of experience.”

More than anything, Finebaum said, Hugh Freeze has won the offseason, and that’s the only season he’s had so far. He then recalled the perception of hiring Freeze in November and December and how much of a chance it was for Auburn.

“None of that matters anymore,” Finebaum said. “… It’s a great time for Auburn. Finally, the malaise of the (Bryan) Harsin era has ended. The last couple years of (Gus) Malzahn, and I think they’re in a really good place, and whether they make a run this year up toward the middle of the pack, I don’t know, but I feel certain this is a bowl team and that’s all you can hope for in Hugh Freeze’s first season.”

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