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5.18.23 Football Articles early edition


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What Auburn football's Hugh Freeze said about transfers Jyaire Shorter, Larry Nixon III

Richard Silva, Montgomery Advertiser

3–4 minutes

LaGRANGE — Auburn football has been one of the country's most active teams in the transfer portal since coach Hugh Freeze was hired in November, and one of its busier days in the last few months came Tuesday.

The Tigers added two former North Texas players in wide receiver Jyaire Shorter and linebacker Larry Nixon III. Both players joined the Mean Green as members of the Class of 2018, and each redshirted their freshman years before having career-best seasons in 2022.

"Man, (I'm) excited about both those kids," Freeze said at an AMBUSH event in LaGrange on Wednesday. "Jyaire Shorter, I think, is a deep-ball threat. He’s proven he can go get the ball. He gives us some length and catch radius that we need for what we want to do offensively."

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Shorter, who hauled in 23 passes for 628 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, had previously dealt with injuries before breaking out in 2022. He appeared in two games in 2021 before an injury shut him down, and the same happened the year prior after seeing action in just three contests.

"Those are the difficult deals in recruiting a kid for one week," Freeze said of Shorter's injury history. "Those are uncomfortable and you have to make a gut call on some of those. Obviously, he came on his official visit and went through everything with our docs. We, obviously, are optimistic and believe that he’ll be 100%. But that’s absolutely always a concern.

"It seems like there’s a lot of that with some of the portal guys that you have to kind of wade through and decide if the juice is worth the squeeze, so to speak."

Shorter's big-play ability was enough for Freeze to overlook the injury concerns.

"If we can get him 20 catches and 10 of them are touchdowns, that's pretty good," Freeze said. "Hopefully, we can get him more. I thought his explosive playmaking ability was impressive, and maybe something we really don't have, or don't have proven yet at that outside position. ... He's got that capability, so now we just have to get him healthy and hopefully get some consistency and some of that playmaking that you see on field."

As for Nixon, who accumulated 105 total tackles last season, Freeze thinks he could push Ole Miss transfer Austin Keys and Wesley Steiner, among others, for a starting role at linebacker.

"Just his passion, the way he ran to the football and the way he's a solid tackler," Freeze said. "You just can't have enough of those guys. And I think he's going to come in and compete for a starting position. I really do."

Richard Silva is the Auburn athletics beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached via email at rsilva@gannett.com or on Twitter @rich_silva18.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Auburn football's Hugh freeze talks Jyaire Shorter, Larry Nixon III

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Former Jackson State WR Shane Hooks visited Auburn on Tuesday

JD McCarthy

~2 minutes

Despite the addition of former North Texas wide receiver Jyaire Shorter on Tuesday, the Auburn Tiger may not be done adding receivers.

According to Christian Clemente of Auburn Undercover, Jackson State transfer wide receiver Shane Hooks unofficially visited Auburn on Tuesday.

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Hooks entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer on Dec. 21, 2022. He then committed to Ole Miss on April 20 but backed off that pledge on April 28. That is when Auburn got involved, offering him a scholarship on May 13.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder also has offers from UCF, Utah, Mississippi State and Liberty. This is his second time in the portal, he started his career at Ohio before transferring to Jackson State prior to the 2019 season.

He did not play in 2019 or 2020 but started to emerge in 2021. He caught 16 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns in six games.

Hooks became Jackson State’s top wideout last season, snagging 66 passes for 775 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories.

Auburn has already added three wide receivers between the two transfer windows, Nick Mardner (Cincinnati) committed during the first window with Caleb Burton (Ohio State) and Shorter (North Texas) committing during the spring.

They have also added former Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne and FIU tight end Rivaldo Fairweather as they look to overhaul a passing attack that struggled last season.

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 JD on Twitter @jdmccarthy15

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Josh Pate evaluates Hugh Freeze’s roster overhaul at Auburn

Keith Farner

2–3 minutes

Josh Pate understands that many analysts have praised Hugh Freeze’s roster overhaul at Auburn, and have even ranked his transfer portal class in the top 5.

The 247Sports analyst then shared on WJOX out of Birmingham, Alabama that while Lincoln Riley may have ruined the transfer portal era for head coaches because of his dramatic roster flip, Freeze has taken a hybrid approach. He’s added pieces while also learning about the roster he inherited.

The balance to strike is to have enough to excite the fan base in Year 1, but also plan for the future.

“To be able to come out of spring, and still be able to go and get a quarterback,” Pate said, “and to also be able to load up with the other guys they’ve gotten, what it does is it gives them a chance to be competitive this year. Like it’s 2023, no fan base wants to hear about your 2- or 3-year plan anymore. They’d love to hear, but they also want to hear about what you’re going to do in the mean time. And they, at the very least, have afforded themselves the opportunity in the mean time to be competitive in every game they play.”


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USA TODAY Sports' Blake Toppmeyer grades SEC quarterback transfers

Taylor Jones
5–6 minutes

Athletes who remain in the transfer portal still have time to choose their next destination, but there are several talented prospects who have already found their new home.

Now that the calendar has turned to May, USA TODAY Sports columnist Blake Toppmeyer has given a grade to each quarterback who has transferred into the SEC this season, including new Auburn signal caller Payton Thorne.

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Thorne joined Auburn’s roster back on May 5 and is poised to compete with incumbent starter Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner for the QB1 spot this fall for Hugh Freeze’s new-look offense.

Toppmeyer lists Thorne as the second-best quarterback transfer to enter the SEC this season and gives the former Michigan State Spartan a C+ grade.

Hugh Freeze seized a quarterback with two years of starting experience during the spring transfer window. That’s good news after Auburn whiffed on adding a transfer quarterback in the winter. The downside is Thorne threw 21 interceptions the past two seasons. Assemble talent around Thorne, and he looks good. See 2021, when Michigan State went 11-2. Put too much on his shoulders, and he’ll struggle. See ’22, when Sparty regressed to 5-7. Thorne upgrades AU’s quarterback situation as compared to the Bryan Harsin era.

Who are the other quarterbacks on the list? Here’s a look at what grades each transfer quarterback within the SEC has received from Toppmeyer.


The Courier-Journal

NC State transfer Devin Leary is at the top of Toppmeyer’s list. Leary considered Auburn following his move to the portal from NC State, but elected to sign with Kentucky. After the departure of Will Levis to the NFL, Leary slides in as the most experienced quarterback on Kentucky’s roster with 6,807 yards and 62 touchdown passes in 30 games with the Wolfpack.

Grade: B


Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Trailing Leary is new Auburn quarterback, Payton Thorne. Thorne had a stellar 2021 season where he led the Michigan State Spartans to an 11-2 record and a Peach Bowl win. He sustained an injury in the Spartans’ 2022 season opener, which had lasting effects on his season. However, he played through and is now in competiton with Robby Ashford for the starting quarterback job on the Plains.

Grade: C+


Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Following Thorne on the list is new Alabama signal caller, Tyler Buchner. Nick Saban, like Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, needs to find a replacement at quarterback after Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young was selected No. 1 overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2023 NFL draft. Jalen Milroe and Ty Simpson battled in spring practice, but Saban felt that adding a transfer quarterback would tune up the compeition. Buchner, who played for new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees at Notre Dame, should adjust well to the Alabama scheme.

Grade: C

For more Alabama football coverage, check out Roll Tide Wire.


Bruce Newman / Special to The Clarion-Ledger / USA TODAY NETWORK

Next up is another former Auburn target in ex-Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders. Sanders landed at Ole Miss where he is competing against fellow transfer Walker Howard and incumbent Jaxson Dart, who himself is a transfer. Sanders is arguably the most experienced quarterback on the list, but injury concerns lead Toppmeyer to place Sanders low on the list.

Grade: C


Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

Another program looking to fill the void of a first round pick is the Florida Gators. Former Wisconsin Badger, Graham Mertz, appears to be the guy that will take over for Anthony Richardson in Gainesville. Mertz’s production at Wisconsin leaves Toppmeyer feeling skeptical when it comes to what he can do at quarterback for Billy Napier’s squad. Toppmeyer cites that Mertz “failed to reach 100 yards passing in three games last season. In 2021, he endured a five-game stretch without reaching 115 yards passing in any game.”

Grade: D

For more Florida football coverage, check out Gators Wire.


Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

There are plenty of capable quarterbacks on Toppmeyer’s list, but the one who needs a fresh start more than anyone is new Missouri quarterback Jake Garcia. Garcia had an interesting high school career as he began in California before transferring to Valdosta High School, then later to Grayson High School in Georgia. He signed with Miami as a four-star product of the 2021 recruiting cycle. His career has not gotten off to a great start, as he has thrown for just 950 yards and seven touchdowns in two seasons at Miami. Things appear to continue trending downward for Garcia, as Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz says that incumbent starter Brady Cook appears to be the top choice at Missouri heading into the season.

Grade: D

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Auburn depth chart impact LB Larry Nixon III

Nathan King

31–39 minutes

Nixon was one of the most productive players in the Group of Five last season

To help offset the loss of Owen Pappoe, Auburn has now picked up an experienced linebacker in each of the two transfer windows.

Larry Nixon III marks the second transfer addition of the day for the Tigers, after his former teammate at North Texas — receiver Jyaire Shorter — also committed to Auburn earlier Tuesday. At 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds, Nixon becomes one of the Tigers’ most veteran pieces for first-year coordinator Ron Roberts’ defense, after he appeared in 40 games playing for North Texas in his home state.

One of the most productive players in the Group of Five last season, Nixon earned first team All-Conference USA honors after posting 105 tackles with the Mean Green. In four years at North Texas, Nixon compiled 245 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

Between Nixon, Ole Miss transfer Austin Keys and LSU transfer DeMario Tolan, Auburn added 2,474 career snaps and 306 tackles to its linebacking corps this offseason.

Nixon is the sixth incoming transfer for Auburn in the second portal window — joining Shorter, App State pass-rusher Jalen McLeod, Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne, Ohio State receiver Caleb Burton and Tulsa offensive lineman Jaden Muskrat — and the 18th overall for Hugh Freeze’s transfer class, which has been ranked in the top 5 nationally by 247Sports for most of the cycle.

“Hugh (Freeze) did a great job getting everybody here,” Nixon said after his Auburn visit last week. “Excited to see where everything goes.”

Now that Auburn has likely finalized its inside linebacker room for 2023, let’s take a look at the personnel for first-year position coach Josh Aldridge, and how Nixon could fit into the rotation in his final college season.

Freshmen: Robert Woodyard (RS)

Sophomores: DeMario Tolan

Juniors: Cam Riley (RS), Austin Keys, Eugene Asante

Seniors: Larry Nixon III, Wesley Steiner


Depth chart projection

MIKE: Austin Keys OR Wesley Steiner (1), Robert Woodyard (2)

WILL: Cam Riley OR Larry Nixon III (1), Eugene Asante OR DeMario Tolan (2)

Aldridge said during spring practices that there are a number of players in his room who are versatile enough to play either middle or weakside ‘backer — particularly Riley. Keys has the “perfect Mike build to him,” according to Aldridge, and he and Steiner shared first-team reps there throughout spring ball.

That would seemingly slot Nixon into a role on the weakside, which would be on track with the skill set he displayed at North Texas. According to Pro Football Focus, only 12.7 percent of his snaps last season came at middle linebacker.

There, he’ll likely compete with the lengthy and athletic Riley, who started eight games last season. But at the end of the day, as Aldridge and Roberts harped on during the spring, Auburn’s defense wants at least four or five linebackers who can consistently rotate over the course of a game. A situation like that of Pappoe — who played an absurd 90.2 percent of Auburn’s defensive snaps last season — should be a thing of the past for a new coaching staff that’s put a big emphasis on depth and rotation.

Considering Nixon’s experience level and superb production last season as the No. 4 leading tackler in his conference, there should be little reason to think he won’t be a factor in that refreshing equation for Auburn’s linebacking corps this season.

If he carves out a significant role in the defense, Nixon would be one of the biggest success stories at Auburn in 2023 in terms of recruiting stature, considering he was ranked as the No. 426 player in the state of Texas alone by 247Sports back in the 2018 class.

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How does Auburn’s running back unit look since the end of spring football?

Published: May. 16, 2023, 5:29 p.m.

4–5 minutes

Auburn football coach Hugh Freeze talks QB battle at Regions Tradition


Nubyjas Wilborn | nwilborn@al.com

It was no secret that Auburn had question marks at several positions when Hugh Freeze took over the program after Bryan Harsin’s departure. Freeze openly expressed concern about the quarterbacks, receivers, and depth on the offensive line.

For as many areas as Freeze felt he needed to address, he didn’t feel the need to be concerned about the status of Auburn’s runningbacks. Despite losing Tank Bigsby to NFL Draft, where the Jacksonville Jaguars picked him, there wasn’t much panic. Of course, comfort becomes more straightforward when the team has Jarquez Hunter leading the way.

Hunter ran for 593 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2021, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He built on the foundation of his freshman success last season with seven touchdowns and 668 yards on 6.7 yards per touch. Similarly to how Freeze was candid with his critiques for other units at Auburn, he was effusive with praise for Hunter.

Read More Auburn Football: Auburn lands 2nd wide receiver from transfer portal since end of spring practices

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Looking at Auburn’s cornerbacks and safeties after spring football

“I think Jarquez is the best that I’ve coached thus far. We’re excited about his demeanor and how he goes about his work,” Freeze told reporters. “If you want him to play kickoff or punt teams, he’s all, ‘Let’s go. Let’s do it.’ Not that we want him to do that.”

Freeze wanted to add to the running back depth. He consulted with offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery and running back coach Cadillac Williams. One of the reasons Freeze doesn’t need Hunter to worry about punt or kick returns was signing Brian Battie out of USF. Battie is a former All-American kick returner and a dynamic running back.

“The thing that you notice when you’re around him or even as a person that played against him, he is very difficult to tackle,” Montgomery said. “Right? And he does a great job of setting up blocks and being patient. He can stop and start and create some spacing for himself. And then, I’m just telling you, he hides behind things, and then suddenly, you see him pop out, and good things are happening.”

Hunter and Battie form a formidable pair for the Tiger offense. Damari Alston played behind Bigsby and Hunter last season as a freshman. He’s seeking more carries as a sophomore.

“With my freshman year and this year, I came in with the same mindset,” Alston said. “Even though Tank and Jarquez were in front of me, I still came in competing like I was coming for the starting job. I feel like that’s how I am this year as well, and that’s how it is now, and it’s still going to be the same.”

If that’s enough, don’t forget about incoming freshman Jeremiah Cobb, who comes to the Plains with many expectations as a 4-star running back from Montgomery Catholic Preparatory.

“I think there’s a good battle going on in there, yet I think they also understand, especially in the world of college football, it’s probably going to be some version of a rotation that’s going to happen in the backfield,” Montgomery said. I’ve been impressed with that room. I think they’ve got a chance to have a really special season when we all get it going in the right direction, and they’re going to be a vital, vital, vital part of what we are.”

Auburn starts the 2023 season at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept 2 against UMass.

Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.

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John Cohen: ‘We’ve had conversations with Under Armour’

Published: May. 17, 2023, 9:11 p.m.

2–3 minutes

Auburn athletics director John Cohen said Wednesday his department has begun to discuss its future with longtime apparel provider Under Armour. (Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics/AU At


Creg Stephenson | cstephenson@al.com

Auburn athletics director John Cohen told reporters Wednesday night he is beginning to look into the school’s future with Under Armour.

The Tigers have been affiliated with Under Armour since 2005, and signed a 9-year contract extension worth $78 million in 2015. However, the “exclusive negotiating window” between the two parties expires on Sept. 1, after which Auburn would be free to seek out another apparel provider.

Cohen, Auburn’s AD since October, said during an alumni event at the Great Wolf Lodge in LaGrange, Ga., that his department is beginning to formulate a plan on the future of its apparel deal.

“We’ve had conversations with Under Armour,” Cohen said via On3 Sports. “My knowledge of the history of this relationship is a little bit limited, although I’m getting information from our coaches, student athletes and our fans have an opinion. We’re doing a lot of research. We will do our due diligence and be ready to have conversations about the future of Auburn and our apparel partner. We’ll see where it takes us in the future.”

Auburn is among more than a dozen FBS schools contracted to Maryland-based Under Armour, a list that also includes South Carolina, Maryland, UAB and Notre Dame. However, Sports Illustrated reported last week that the Fighting Irish have let their negotiating window with Under Armour expire without agreeing to an extension, meaning the school is a “free agent” when it comes to its apparel deal.

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