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What's next for All-Star MVP Ryan Williams? A visit to Auburn

Published: Dec. 16, 2023, 4:50 p.m.
3–4 minutes

Alabama-MIssissippi All-Star Football

Alabama Ryan Williams (3) catches a pass for a touchdown during the first half of the Mississippi Alabama Football Classic Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, in Hattiesburg, Miss. (Photo/Butch Dill/@prepsal.com)preps@al.com


  • Randy Kennedypreps@al.com

Round 1 went to Alabama wide receiver commit Ryan Williams. But LSU cornerback commit Prentiss Woodland is eager for many rematches to come.

Williams was named his team’s Most Valuable Player in Saturday’s Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic after catching eight passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-17 win. The Saraland star is the state’s reigning Mr. Football and is a candidate to become the first player to win the award twice. The winner will be announced Jan. 16 in Montgomery.

But first, he had some unfinished business in his last game in a Saraland helmet. Williams was comfortable playing in an offense directed by his head coach, Jeff Kelly, who was Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

“This was definitely a great atmosphere and I was very blessed to be chosen to play in the game,” said Williams, who was a late addition to the game after reclassifying to the Class of 2024. “It was great to play with coach Kelly calling plays because this was my offense. We didn’t go out last week like we wanted to, so we wanted to end with a win.”

Seven of Williams’ eight catches and both of his touchdowns came in the first half. After the half, the Mississippi coaches decided to have Woodland shadow him all over the field.

“He’s a great competitor and he’s very fast,” said the Oak Grove High School player, who wore purple sleeves and gold Tiger gloves during the game. “I loved the challenge of covering him all over the field. I’m ready to see him again. Let’s go on to the next level and get after it again.”

Williams posed for dozens of pictures following the game, including one with the five players in the game who are committed to Auburn – wide receivers Bryce Cain of Baker and Malcolm Simmons of Benjamin Russell, defensive lineman Malik Blocton of Pike Road, deep snapper J.R. Buckner of Auburn and Jamonta Waller from Picayune, Miss.

Williams, who wore an Alabama towel during the game, said he plans to be in Auburn on Sunday for the Tigers’ basketball game against USC and Bronny James. Beyond that he said his schedule is undecided.

Williams said last week that he planned to sign with Alabama on Feb. 9, which is his 17th birthday.

When asked Saturday if there was any chance he would sign this week instead, he replied, “I don’t think so.”

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ESPN’s SP+ ranks hardest 2024 college football schedules

Grant Bricker | 14 hours ago
~3 minutes

ESPN’s SP+ has offered a look at which schools are going to have the toughest schedules next year, and many of them are in the SEC.

Florida took the top spot and was 1 of 7 SEC teams to make the top 15, along with Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Texas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and Auburn. The Big Ten and ACC were the other conferences to have schools listed. Here’s the teams with the 15 hardest schedules based on 2023 results:

  • No. 1: Florida
  • No. 2: USC
  • No. 3: Northwestern
  • No. 4: Mississippi State
  • No. 5: Purdue
  • No. 6: Georgia Tech
  • No. 7: Oklahoma
  • No. 8: Washington
  • No. 9: Vanderbilt
  • No. 10: Texas
  • No. 11: South Carolina
  • No. 12: UCLA
  • No. 13: Oregon
  • No. 14: Auburn
  • No. 15: Michigan State

The Gators start the year with an in-state showdown with Miami. They then play Samford at home, followed up by Texas A&M before traveling to Mississippi State. Florida has a bye then faces UCF, Tennessee, and Kentucky. It has a second bye before ending the year with Georgia, Texas, LSU, Ole Miss, and Florida State.

Hardest 2024 CFB schedules, per SP+ (using 2023 ratings as a placeholder):

1 Florida
3 Northwestern (only 11 games)
4 Miss St
5 Purdue
6 Ga Tech
7 Oklahoma
8 Washington
9 Vandy
10 Texas
11 S Caro
13 Oregon
14 Auburn
15 Mich St

— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) December 16, 2023

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Auburn’s Hugh Freeze Believes He Hasn’t Handled the Transfer Portal ‘Very Well'

Lance Dawe
2–3 minutes

Auburn's first transfer portal class underneath Hugh Freeze was No. 5 in the country.

The Tigers filled their needs, grabbing a quarterback, multiple offensive linemen, and a number of defensive pieces to provide depth. Freeze and his staff nailed the first go-round with the portal by almost all accounts.

Except for Freeze. He doesn't believe he's handled the portal very well.

It's not about the talent he's acquired, it's about the way he wants to manage his roster between transfers and Auburn's own high school recruits.

“I don’t think I’ve handled it very well, truthfully," Freeze said during Saturday's press conference when asked about how he's handled the transfer portal. "We want to build this program through high school for the most part. Having said that, I don’t know if you can ever isolate yourself into saying that’s what is going to happen because you don’t know how many you’re going to lose at this time, if that makes sense. You can plan, ‘Hey, we’re going to replace these 20 seniors with 20 high schoolers’, but then all of a sudden you have 30 spots and you haven’t recruited enough high schoolers for those spots and, obviously, you have to go to the portal then."

Freeze went on to comment about the current calendar for the transfer portal and high school recruiting. Coaches don't seem to like it at all, and to a fan who doesn't have to actually experience the grind and the flip flopping back and forth with recruits and transfers, the way things are set up don't make a ton of sense.

"I think our calendar is extremely messed up," Freeze said. "I don’t think it’s good for high school recruiting, portal recruiting, managing your own team, getting ready for bowl prep. I think our calendar needs a serious, serious look at it for what’s best for our game. It’s hard for any of us to truly manage all of it, truthfully.”

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Former Georgia DB AJ Harris is visiting Auburn this weekend

Taylor Jones
~2 minutes

Hugh Freeze and Auburn’s coaching staff have struck gold by earning the commitments of two Central-Phenix City prospects, Cam Coleman and Dylan Gentry.

Do they feel lucky enough to roll the dice on the possibility of earning a pledge from another former Red Devil? The possibility is evident.

AJ Harris, who signed with Georgia as a member of the 2023 recruiting class from Central-Phenix City, entered the transfer portal on Thursday. Not long after announcing his intention to enter the transfer portal, Harris made plans to visit Auburn. According to On3, Harris is paying a visit to the Plains this weekend.

Harris was the No. 1 recruit from the state of Alabama for the 2023 class. He was considered to be a five-star prospect by 247Sports, and was the No. 2 cornerback in the nation.

Despite the high-acclaim on the recruiting trail, Harris did not earn as much playing time in Athens that he was expecting. He played in five games this season for Georgia according to Pro Football Focus, totaling 89 snaps.

Auburn is looking to replace DJ James and Nehemiah Pritchett in the backfield next season, and Harris could be a solid fit. The current transfer portal window will remain open until Jan. 2.

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

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Freeze talks bowl prep roster recruiting quarterbacks and more

Jason Caldwell
~2 minutes

Two weeks out from the Music City Bowl, Auburn will be missing a few major pieces against the Terrapins.

With four NFL draft entrants at the moment, Auburn has a handful of opt-outs for its bowl matchup with Maryland on Dec. 30, Hugh Freeze told reporters Saturday on the first day of bowl practices.

Neither of Auburn's starting cornerbacks — D.J. James and Nehemiah Pritchett — are expected to play in the game, Freeze said.

Freeze met with Jaylin Simpson earlier in the day Saturday, and the NFL-bound safety wants to play, granted he's healthy enough from a nagging hamstring injury.

"He’s nursing that hamstring," Freeze said. "I just met with him. He has intentions to play."

Defensive tackle Marcus Harris is also expected to opt out of the Music City Bowl, Freeze said.

"Obviously you have the transfer (departures)," Freeze said. "But I think the rest are planning to play as long as they're healthy enough to play."

James and Pritchett, along with Simpson, all accepted their Senior Bowl invites and are turning pro.

A three-year defensive line starter, Harris declared his intentions to forego his final season of college eligibility.

Freeze did not mention names like Rivaldo Fairweather and Dillon Wade — who could turn pro but have yet to share their plans for 2024 — as being opt-out candidates.

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Freeze clear on Auburn's high school-focused roster blueprint

Nathan King
6–7 minutes

Hugh Freeze has laid out his roster-building blueprint at Auburn clearly.

The Tigers had a transfer-heavy roster in Year 1 under Freeze, bringing in 20 players from the portal. But that was out of pure necessity to shore up serious depth issues at a number of positions. Freeze knows the sport’s best and most talented programs are those comprised primarily of high-end recruiting classes stacked from year to year. During a hectic time of year for coaches, Freeze admitted he's been focusing more on closing out the 2024 class than the transfer ranks.

All that said, though, he hasn’t enjoyed how the Tigers’ efforts in the portal have played out thus far.

“Don’t think I have handled (the portal) very well, truthfully,” Freeze said Saturday, as Auburn opened bowl practices. “We want to build this program through high school, for the most part. Having said that, I don’t know that you can ever isolate yourself into saying that’s going to happen because you don’t know how many you’re going to lose at this time (of year). You can plan to replace these 20 seniors with 20 high schoolers and then all of the sudden you have 30 spots and you haven’t recruited enough high schoolers for those spots. Obviously you have to go to the portal then.”

Auburn has one transfer commitment thus far from Georgia State receiver Robert Lewis. The Tigers had visits set up for a pair of big offensive line targets in the portal — Vinny Sciury from Toldeo and Fernando Carmona Jr. from San Jose State — but they committed elsewhere before the Tigers’ staff could get them on campus. Sciury pledged to Texas Tech after a midweek visit, and Carmona committed to Arkansas during his visit Friday.

And that was after a pair of offensive line visitors last week — Matthew Bedford from Indiana and Gerquan Scott from Southern Miss — committed to Colorado and Ole Miss, respectively.

Coastal Carolina receiver Jared Brown was set to visit Auburn this weekend before he committed to South Carolina. Vanderbilt defensive end Nate Clifton could still visit as previously planned this weekend, but he committed to USC earlier this week.

“We’ve had many visits set and they never even get to campus and they’ve already decided where they’re going before we ever get to ever get in front of them,” Freeze said. “Maybe I need to change our approach some to that, but before we get really serious with someone, I’d love to get in front of them and have some conversations. Who knows what’s the best way to go about it right now? But I think we’re all kind of in some trial and error to see what really works and what doesn’t.”

Freeze hopes he’s closing in on a top-10 class, currently positioned with the nation’s No. 11 haul for 2024, per the 247Sports Composite. Florida defensive line commits Amaris Williams and LJ McCray, and Florida State safety commit KJ Bolden are thought to be on flip watch for the Tigers. Offensive linemen Coen Echols and Favour Edwin are also potential signing-day additions.

“Idealistically, I’d love to just sign a bunch of high school (players) and build great relationships with them and never lose them,” Freeze said. “I don’t know – that may be in dream land with the way the climate is of college football today. It sure would be nice to do that. The portal world, maybe we need to start trying to visit them as soon as you can instead of setting up for a weekend that never happens. I don’t know. It’s been challenging to figure out.”

The NCAA dead period begins Monday, meaning Auburn can’t have any visitors on campus — transfer or high school — until things open back up Jan. 12. With the exception of maybe someone like Memphis offensive tackle Makylan Pounders, who visited earlier this week, the Tigers may go into the dead period with just Lewis as their lone transfer commitment.

Auburn can obviously gain commitments while players aren’t on visits, but Freeze expects to be continuing to patchwork the roster with transfers when the spring semester begins.

“If you’re really committed to (focusing on the high school class), you’ve kind of got to see a few things through,” Freeze said. “And then I guess if we don’t get everything we need, which you typically don’t, then you’re hoping that the weekend in January provides you with a few of those possibilities to fill the gaps in the portal, or then obviously it would be after spring practice that you’d try to do it. … And you don’t know how many more people are going to go in (the portal), but I guess I’ve already put my chips in saying I’m pretty all-in on trying to sign this high school class and would like to see it through and then go from there. Again, not one to sit here and say my plan is the perfect one but that’s the plan.”

That includes the quarterback position, where Freeze isn’t keen on adding a big-name transfer, as he admits he’s seen Auburn fans tell him to do on social media. Freeze likes the idea of Payton Thorne in a second year in the system with better talent around him in 2024.

If you go take (a transfer quarterback) you're probably going to lose Payton, Holden (Geriner). You’d better be right .I believe in Payton. I believe in Holden. I believe in Hank (Brown). I believe in the kid we've got coming (Walker White). If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but that's my belief. Looking forward to getting better pieces in our offense and him improving.”

Auburn practices on campus from Saturday till Friday before some days off for Christmas. They’ll report back and leave for Nashville on Dec. 26.

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Hugh Freeze, Auburn expected to see three veteran players opt out of bowl game vs. Maryland

Updated: Dec. 16, 2023, 1:37 p.m.|Published: Dec. 16, 2023, 1:27 p.m.
4–5 minutes

Auburn, AL - 20231021 - Auburn Tigers Football vs. (13) Ole Miss

AUBURN, AL - OCTOBER 21 - Auburn Defensive Back Nehemiah Pritchett (1), Auburn Linebacker Larry Nixon III (30) during the game between the Auburn Tigers and the (13) Ole Miss at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, AL on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn TigersAustin Perryman/Auburn Tigers

When the Auburn Tigers take to Nissan Stadium for their Music City Bowl dance with the Maryland Terrapins, they’ll do so without three veteran defenders.

Defensive backs DJ James and Nehemiah Pritchett, as well as defensive lineman Marcus Harris are expected to opt out of the bowl game, head coach Hugh Freeze revealed during his press conference Saturday.

“I’ve tried to get confirmation with all of that because I never like to speak... and sometimes I say things that are not exactly accurate and I don’t like doing that. It’s not intentional,” Freeze said. “I believe DJ (James) and (Nehemiah) Pritchett will not play. As I believe that of Marcus Harris, also. I think those guys will decide to opt out.

While James and Pritchett are each out of eligibility, Harris announced Dec. 12 that he’d be foregoing his final year of eligibility and declaring for the NFL Draft.

Without James and Pritchett playing against Maryland, Auburn will be looking to replace guys who combined for 60 total tackles, 13 pass breakups and three interceptions through the course of the regular season.

Fortunately for the Tigers, Freeze said Saturday that he expected Jaylin Simpson to play in the bowl game, despite having already accepted a Senior Bowl invite.

“He’s nursing that hamstring some, but I just met with him and he has intentions to play,” Freeze said of Simpson.

The fact that Keionte Scott announced Monday that he’d be returning to The Plains for his senior season also comes as a relief to Auburn’s secondary, which will now be thin against Maryland. Meanwhile Auburn also boasts young talent in the secondary in guys like Kayin Lee, JD Rhym, Colton Hood and JC Hart — all whom are bound to see increased action this postseason.

“I just told these young guys, they’re going to get thrown in there. Truthfully, you’re going to get those young corners in for sure,” Freeze said. “It will be good to see how they prepare for a game and then go play a very talented football team.”

The loss of Harris, on the other hand, might be a more difficult void to fill.

During the 2023 regular season, Harris tallied 40 total tackles and 11 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Harris added another seven sacks to his regular-season resume. Both Harris’ number of TFLs and sacks led the Tigers in 2023.

Without Harris available along the offensive front, Auburn will likely look to Jayson Jones, Justin Rogers and Zykeivous Walker to fill in. Each member of that trio appeared in all 12 of Auburn’s games in 2023 with Walker leading the way with 20 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Freeze said some of Auburn’s younger defensive linemen will also be thrown into the mix.

“Up front we are a little thin now with Mosiah (Nasili-Kite) being out and Marcus choosing not to play,” Freeze said. “It’s next man up. We’ve got to get some of these young guys in there. Some DJ Reeds, some (Quientrail Jamison-Travis), throw them in there and see how they do.”

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Hugh Freeze is gambling on his QB room. His future at Auburn depends on him being right.

Updated: Dec. 16, 2023, 4:49 p.m.|Published: Dec. 16, 2023, 3:18 p.m.
6–8 minutes

These are the types of decisions that define a coach’s tenure. And the one Hugh Freeze told reporters about on Saturday is exactly the type of hill he’ll have to lie down on.

Auburn’s head coach said he remains confident in Payton Thorne going into next season. All indications are he’ll go into next year as the relatively unquestioned starting quarterback. He isn’t looking for a starter to come out of the transfer portal.

“I haven’t found a guy yet, and No. 1, if you go take one you’re probably going to lose Payton, Holden (Geriner),” Freeze said Saturday. “You better be right! I believe in Payton. I believe in Holden. I believe in Hank (Brown). I believe in the kid we’ve got coming (2024 QB commit Walker White). If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but that’s my belief.”

It’s a telling and bold statement from Freeze. He’s going to build with what he has. Another transfer quarterback isn’t going to solve Auburn’s problems.

As Freeze said, he better be right.

On the surface, sticking with Thorne seems like the easy choice. It doesn’t mean teaching a new offense to another new quarterback. Freeze already had to teach it to Thorne when he arrived from Michigan State over the summer, leaving just the month of August to practice with the Tigers before the season.

Thorne brings back over 2,000 yards from scrimmage between his arms and his legs in 2023 and, as Freeze said, Thorne got progressively better each week as the season went on.

Freeze’s gamble, though, lies more in what he passed up to decide on Thorne.

He did not settle back on Thorne as a last resort. He instead looked at a transfer portal full of big-name quarterbacks like Notre Dame-bound Riley Leonard, N.C. State-bound Grayson McCall and the still undecided Washington State transfer Cameron Ward as if all were secondary options to the returning quarterback he already had.

“Truthfully, we evaluate and watch every single quarterback/lineman/receiver that goes in the portal and we try to evaluate (if this) is the best thing for our football team,” Freeze said Saturday. “Truthfully, I don’t know if you know this, but we have one of the top returning quarterbacks in Power Five with wins in Payton Thorne. I believe that if we get the right pieces around him and Holden and Hank, I think our quarterback room is going to be fine next year. That is my belief. It’s what drives me to get the right pieces around them.”

What Freeze is doing is sticking to his long-laid-out plans. Since Freeze got to Auburn in November 2022, he has based his plan to build Auburn as a multi-year project. He was going to bring in his recruits from high school and supplement it with the transfer portal as needed. He doesn’t want to bring in a class of nearly two dozen transfers like he had to last offseason as he put his first Auburn team together.

More than 1,000 players have entered the transfer portal since it opened on Dec. 4. Freeze has only landed a commitment from one of them. The transfer portal may be the new trendy way to build a roster, but Freeze is sticking to his guns.

Freeze said it bluntly: he wants to build his program through high school players.

“That’s been one of my issues too when I say I don’t think I’ve been very good at some of this portal deal because I’m really committed to trying to sign the best high school class we can,” Freeze said.

That shows in his lack of pursuit of a quarterback in the portal. If he was to bring in a quarterback, it had to be the perfect fit because Freeze knew it would further alter the chemistry of the quarterback room he already had beyond the expected departure of Robby Ashford.

It shows in Freeze’s approach of building an offense around his quarterback instead. The message from his Saturday press conference made it clear that Freeze believes the reason why Auburn’s passing offense finished among the 10 worst in FBS was due more to the poor wide receiver and offensive line play than it was Thorne and the quarterbacks.

Freeze noted Throne’s Pro Football Focus analytical stats as the year went on. Over Auburn’s final five games, Thorne’s grades were consistently among the top tier of college quarterbacks. His overall grade for the year had him just outside the top 25% of quarterbacks despite a poor start to the season.

“If you look when (Thorne) had two NFL receivers, the two kids from Michigan State, the guy threw for 6,700 yards and I think he can do just fine,” Freeze said.

Freeze put every ounce of his quarterback commitment behind what he has on the roster now and one incoming piece of 4-star high school recruit Walker White. Freeze is not changing his stance: it’s Thorne now and either Geriner or White later.

He’s put every ounce of his commitment behind a star-studded wide receiver class led by 5-star recruits Cam Coleman and Perry Thompson. That is the NFL talent Freeze believes can elevate Thorne.

This is his gamble. The decisions he is making now will be reflective of his overall success at Auburn — and in turn if he can build a tenure as Auburn’s coach for the long term. Freeze has been given time to build a roster that had been drained from poor 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes.

And with such a strong vote of confidence in his build-up from high school classes, he’s created his own timeline for evaluating his coaching success.

His first full high school recruiting class will begin signing with Auburn during Wednesday’s early signing day and begin arriving on campus within the next month.

“I guess I’ve already put my chips in saying I’m pretty all-in on trying to sign this high school class and would like to see it through and then go from there,” Freeze said. “Again, not one to sit here and say my plan is the perfect one but that’s the plan.”

This is the group Freeze is betting on. He’s made that much clear.

He’ll be getting a full year to work with Thorne as Auburn begins bowl practices Saturday and eventually spring practices. He’ll begin getting the young talent on campus. So much of recruiting is talk and ratings and highlight tapes. The onus is now on Freeze to put it together.

The onus is on him to be right.

Matt Cohen covers Auburn sports for AL.com. You can follow him on X at @Matt_Cohen_ or email him at mcohen@al.com

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Passing game options limited as Auburn opens bowl practices

Jason Caldwell
15–20 minutes

Auburn takes on Maryland in the Music City Bowl on December 30.

AUBURN, Alabama—There will be a whole lot of new faces at wide receiver for the Auburn Tigers in 2024 following the losses of Ja’Varrius Johnson, Malcolm Johnson Jr., Omari Kelly and Jyaire Shorter to the transfer portal and one-year transfers Shane Hooks and Nick Mardner done after the bowl game, but in the short term those transfers leave coach Hugh Freeze and assistant Marcus Davis with a very shorthanded group of pass catchers going up against the Maryland Terrapins.

While 5-stars Cam Coleman and Perry Thompson are currently committed along with 4-stars Bryce Cain and Malcolm Simmons along with Georgia State transfer Robert Lewis, they won’t be available on December 30th in Nashville. Auburn is also still recruiting 5-star Alabama commitment Ryan Williams but when the Tigers open practices on Saturday, none of those names will be available.

That leaves sophomore Jay Fair as the leading receiver on the roster currently, finishing the regular season with 30 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns. Ohio State transfer Caleb Burton caught 11 passes for 148 yards this season, but played his best football late in the season as he continued to get more comfortable in the offense.

In addition to those two, Hooks and Mardner are expected to finish out their season in the bowl game with junior Koy Moore and sophomore Camden Brown rounding out the list of available scholarship players.

Hooks caught nine passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns while the remaining three scholarship receivers combined for just 11 receptions for 102 yards.

Facing a defense that has been really good against the pass this season, allowing just 207 yards per game with 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, what was already a challenge for Auburn’s offense has gotten significantly more difficult with the players deciding to transfer out.

Something that should help is the expected return of tight end Rivaldo Fairweather. Leading the team with 33 catches for 349 yards and six touchdowns, Fairweather could be called on for even more work with the limited wide receiver roster available for the bowl game. With Tyler Fromm transferring out, Auburn will still have Luke Deal and Brandon Frazier available, but redshirt freshman Micah Riley-Ducker could be limited after dealing with a shoulder issue suffered in the Iron Bowl.

There could be other options from the walk-ons currently on the roster. Adding to the scholarship group a few weeks ago after transferring from Washington State and then Northern Colorado, 6-3, 205 senior Kassidy Woods could be another option for the Tigers in the passing game. He caught 57 passes for 633 yards and four touchdowns in two seasons at Northern Colorado and could give Auburn some much needed experience against Maryland.

The Tigers will open bowl practices on Saturday and are scheduled to practice six times on campus before breaking for Christmas. They will head to Nashville on December 26 and practice at Vanderbilt in preparation for the game against the Terrapins.

Auburn Transfer Portal Live Tracker

Live updates and tracking all things Auburn in the 2024 portal cycle.

The transfer portal is officially opened up now, with players having until Jan. 3 to enter their name in and then find a new home. For Auburn, it won't be as busy as the 2023 cycle with Hugh Freeze and his staff getting 20 additions and trying to completely rebuild the roster. This year it's about adding veterans and more top-end talent to the roster rather than just completely having to load up.

While players have already begun to announce their intent to enter the transfer portal over the past week, unless a coaching change occurred at their school, they were moving up from the FCS level or were a grad transfer, Monday is the first chance for most to enter the portal. With recruiting open until Dec. 18, too, coaches will be able to hit the road and visit with their top portal targets.

Auburn Undercover is tracking all of the updates for Auburn's departures, Auburn's additions and potential Auburn targets. Note: The names we're tracking do not directly reflect Auburn's board.

You can follow every player that enters the transfer portal across college football HERE. You can follow all of Auburn's portal movement HERE. 




11:00 a.m. (12/16): Former Kansas DL Gage Keys is in Auburn for an official visit.

5:00 p.m. (12/15): Former Georgia CB A.J. Harris has entered the portal after one year. Expect Auburn to pursue the former local 5-star.

3:30 p.m. (12/15): Auburn WR Ja'Varrius Johnson has entered the transfer portal. Not totally unexpected.

1:30 p.m. (12/15): Former Kansas and Minnesota DT Gage Keys has reported an offer from Auburn.

11:45 a.m. (12/15): Auburn QB Robby Ashford has entered the transfer portal.

4:50 pm.m (12.13): Former Liberty DB Preston Hodge has been offered by Auburn. Started out as a JUCO guy before going to Liberty.

8:30 a.m. (12/13): Former Penn DT Joey Slackman will visit Auburn this weekend after being offered.

10:40 p.m. (12/12): Coastal Carolina WR transfer Jared Brown is committed to South Carolina but may still visit Auburn this weekend. It's up in the air.

10:40 p.m. (12/12): Former Duke LB Dorian Mausi is expected in Auburn this weekend for an official visit.

10:40 p.m. (12/12): Despite committing to USC, former Vandy DE Nate Clifton is still scheduled to officially visit Auburn this weekend.

2:30 p.m. (12/11): Auburn DE Wilky Denaud has entered the transfer portal.

1:00 p.m. (12/11): Former Toledo OT Vinny Sciury will take an official visit to Auburn this weekend.

11:00 p.m. (12/10): Former SJSU OT Fernando Carmona Jr. told Auburn Undercover he will take an official visit the weekend of Dec. 15.

6:00 p.m. (12/10): Auburn has landed a commitment from the former Georgia State WR Robert Lewis. After naming the Tigers his favorite earlier in the day, he jumps on board.

12:00 p.m. (12/10): Memphis OT transfer Makylan Pounders arrived in Auburn for his visit.

9:00 a.m. (12/10): After taking an official visit to Auburn over the weekend, former Georgia State WR Robert Lewis named the Tigers his favorite. The likes of Cincinnati, Mississippi State and Kentucky are also in the mix moving forward.

6:00 p.m. (12/8): Former Memphis OT Makylan Pounders will visit Auburn on Sunday.

4:20 p.m. (12/8): Former Miami TE Jaleel Skinner will take an official visit to Auburn the weekend of Dec. 15-17.

7:15 p.m. (12/7): Former Memphis LT Makylan Pounders has reported an offer from Auburn.

5 p.m. (12/7): Former Rhode Island DB Syeed Gibbs has reported an offer from Auburn.

10:30 a.m. (12/7): Auburn safety Marquise Gilbert is in the transfer portal.

9:00 a.m. (12/7): Shortly after entering the portal, former Florida defensive lineman Chris McClellan has reported an offer from Auburn.

10:00 p.m. (12/6): Auburn offered former Oregon State cornerback Jermod McCoy.

8:30 p.m. (12/6): Auburn has offered former Miss State WR Zavion Thomas.

7:30 p.m. (12/6): Auburn has offered former Oregon State safety Akili Arnold.

2:40 p.m. (12/6): Indiana transfer offensive lineman Matthew Bedford is beginning his Auburn visit today. The Hoosiers' starting right guard this season has started 39 games in his Indiana career overall, and has one year of eligibility remaining. 

2:00 p.m. (12/6): Auburn tight end Tyler Fromm has entered the transfer portal. Former class of 2019 recruit who's choosing to play a sixth season of college football elsewhere.

10:00 p.m. (12/5): Auburn has made contact with Miami tight end transfer Jaleel Skinner. As a primary pass-catcher with three years of eligibility, he fits the mold of what the Tigers are looking for at the position.

10:00 a.m. (12/5): Former Montana State offensive lineman Rush Reimer is a name we're monitoring who could land an offer. A former All-Big Sky selection.

10:24 p.m. (12/4): Auburn has offered former San Jose State OT Fernando Carmona. A name we've been tracking today.

7:00 p.m. (12/4): Auburn has offered Kansas State CB transfer Will Lee III. After starting for the Wildcats this season following a stint at the JUCO ranks, Lee has been one of the more sought-after defensive backs in the transfer portal, with offers from LSU, Ole Miss, USC and Washington, among others.

6:05 p.m. (12/4): Bucknell grad transfer CB Ethan Robinson has been offered by Auburn. With two years of eligibility left, Robinson could help offset the loss of both D.J. James and Nehemiah Pritchett in Auburn's secondary.

4:00 p.m. (12/4): Former Vanderbilt WR Will Sheppard has announced an offer from Auburn. Someone that we mentioned Auburn would likely pursue when he first entered the portal. LSU will be a team to monitor for the Louisana native.

1:00 p.m. (12/4): Auburn WR Malcolm Johnson Jr. has entered the transfer portal, a source told Auburn Undercover. Our story on his departure can be found HERE.

12:55 p.m. (12/4) Georgia Tech edge transfer Kyle Kennard is one to track. 247Sports' Allen Trieu confirmed that and noted that he may visit Auburn.

12:45 p.m. (12/4): Georgia QB Brock Vandagriff has entered the portal. The former 5-star quarterback will be one to monitor.

12:13 p.m. (12/4): Arkansas LB transfer Chris Paul has been offered. Auburn Undercover's Phillip Dukes mentioned him as a potential target last week.

11:14 a.m. (12/4): Auburn WR Jyaire Shorter has entered the portal. He arrived at Auburn from North Texas last year, but only caught one pass. He'll spend his last year of eligibility elsewhere. Our story on his departure can be found HERE.

10:15 a.m. (12/4): Georgia State WR Robert Lewis has been offered by Auburn. Caught 70 passes as a redshirt junior in 2023.

10 a.m. (12/4): Vandy WR Will Sheppard is in the portal. Expect Auburn to pursue him, but LSU will be tough to beat for the Louisana native.

9:58 a.m. (12/4): After being offered, former Vandy DE Nate Clifton told Auburn Undercover: "We'll see if it's in the works" about a potential visit. 

9:34 a.m. (12/4): Auburn offers former Vanderbilt DE Nate Clifton. This is a guy that Jeremy Garrett knows from when he was an off-the-field coach with the Commodores.

9:15 a.m. (12/4): Auburn offers former Michigan State DL Derrick Harmon. Close to 70 career tackles in three years.

(12/4): Auburn jack LB/edge Stephen Sings has entered the portal. Came over from Liberty and was mostly a depth piece for the Auburn defense.

(12/4): Stephen Johnson has officially entered the portal.

(12/1): Auburn WR Omari Kelly announced his intention to enter the transfer portal when it opens up. Reserve receiver who combined for five catches during his two years on the Plains. Our story on his departure can be found HERE.

(11/29): Auburn offered Shorter OL transfer Alan Herron. He's received a ton of interest so far. Our story on him can be found HERE.

(11/28): Reserve freshman DT Stephen Johnson announced his intention to enter the transfer portal. He did not play as a freshman. Our story on his departure can be found HERE.

(11/27): Reserve redshirt freshman DT Enyce Sledge announced his intention to enter the transfer portal. Our story on his departure can be found HERE.

(11/27): North Dakota offensive line transfer Easton Kilty was offered by Auburn. He is a graduate transfer with one year of eligibility remaining, with experience all across the offensive line. Our story on him can be found HERE.

(11/27): Southern Miss offensive line transfer Gerquan Scott was offered by Auburn and plans to officially visit the weekend of Dec. 8. Scott is an Alabama native with three years starting experience as a guard. Our story on him can be found HERE.




Transferring out: Robby Ashford

Looking to add: 0

Names we're tracking: 

Auburn is set to return 2023 starter Payton Thorne for another season. What happens with backups Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner will be a big factor in Auburn's pursuit of a quarterback this cycle. Should Ashford depart and Geriner return, with the arrival of freshman Walker White Auburn would still have four scholarship quarterbacks in Thorne, Geriner, Hank Brown and White.

But Auburn has also been kicking the tires on Ward, who is the No. 2 ranked quarterback in the transfer portal. The Alabama native in Leonard is another name worth watching, but Notre Dame has been viewed as the heavy favorite since the second he entered the transfer portal.


Running back


Transferring out: N/A

Looking to add: 0

Names we're tracking: 

If Jarquez Hunter, Damari Alston, Brian Battie and Jeremiah Cobb all return, Auburn may not add a running back this cycle. Transfer portal or high school. 


Wide Receiver


Transferring out: Omari Kelly, Jyaire Shorter, Malcolm Johnson Jr., Ja'Varrius Johnson

Looking to add: 1+

Names we're tracking: LaJohntay Wester (FAU)

ADDITIONS: Robert Lewis (Georgia State), 

What happens at wide receiver in the portal will likely depend on Auburn's chances with 5-star Alabama wide receiver commit Ryan Williams, who appears set to reclassify and then sign with a program in February. If Auburn feels good about its chances with Williams, that'd be five high school wide receivers on the way in. It will also depend some on the rest of Auburn's receiver room, and the attrition there alongside Kelly.

In all likelihood, Auburn will need to add a veteran or two to get some experience in the room.


Tight End


Transferring out: Tyler Fromm

Looking to add: 0-1

Names we're tracking: Jaleel Skinner (Miami)

Depending on what happens with Auburn's efforts in the high school ranks and who all returns, Auburn may turn to the portal for a young pass-catching tight end. Luke Deal has already announced his intention to return, and the same seems likely for Brandon Frazier. Both being blocking tight ends for Auburn. Rivaldo Fairweather also seems likely to return as the primary pass-catcher. The status of Tyler Fromm is still up in the air. 

Auburn and tight ends coach Ben Aigamaua may look to add some youth to the room alongside Micah Riley.


Interior Offensive Line


Transferring out: N/A

Looking to add: 0-1

Names we're tracking:

With Gunner Britton, Avery Jones and Kam Stutts out of eligibility, Auburn will look to add one or two to continue bolstering the inside of its offensive line. So far, the Alabama native in Scott has emerged as the main name to track.


Offensive tackle


Transferring out: N/A

Looking to add: 0-1

Names we're tracking:

Auburn is hoping to add an offensive tackle — an elite one at that — and move Dillon Wade inside to guard for the 2024 season, if Wade does opt to return. If Wade were to head to the NFL, it become an even bigger priority for Auburn in the portal cycle.


Defensive line


Transferring out: Stephen Johnson, Enyce Sledge, Wilky Denaud

Looking to add: 2+

Names we're tracking: Derrick Harmon (Michigan State), Chris McClellan (Florida), Gage Keys (Kansas)

Auburn is going to shift its defensive line room around some, and that's already been evident with the departures of Johnson and Sledge. Look for Auburn to go try and add truly elite talent to upgrade the room going into 2024. 

Young talent and experience will both be targeted.




Transferring out: Stephen Sings

Looking to add: 0-1

Names we're tracking: 

Auburn will return starter Jalen McLeod and reserve Stephen Sings V. Touted freshmen Joe Phillips and Jamonta Waller are also set to arrive. However, look for Auburn to add a player with two or three years of eligibility to try and layer the depth chart and bridge the gap some to the younger guys.




Transferring out: N/A

Looking to add: 1

Names we're tracking: Dorian Mausi (Duke)

Auburn will lose Larry Nixon III as he's out of eligibility, while Eugene Asante is a candidate to go to the draft but that decision is still up in the air. Expect to see Auburn pursue adding at least one true middle linebacker to bridge the gap to DJ Barber while he develops. On the outside, Auburn feels pretty good about that position.




Transferring out: N/A

Looking to add: 1

Names we're tracking: A.J. Harris (Georgia)

With D.J. James and Nehemiah Pritchett heading to the NFL, Auburn landed a loaded class of cornerbacks in the 2023 cycle. And some of that has already come to fruition in the emergence of Kayin Lee. Still, though, Auburn will likely look to add one veteran to the room. Two could be possible depending on attrition of the current roster.




Transferring out: Marquise Gilbert

Looking to add: 1

Names we're tracking: Kamari Ramsey (UCLA)

Similar to the cornerback spot, Auburn will look to add a veteran piece or two to try and bolster the 2024 roster.

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Auburn Wire

Auburn releases depth chart for TransPerfect Music City Bowl

JD McCarthy
Sat, December 16, 2023 at 1:30 PM CST·3 min read
  • After a couple of weeks off, Auburn football is set to return to action on Dec. 30 when they play Maryland in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl.

Auburn’s roster will look quite different from the last time they took the field after 12 players have entered the transfer portal and others have opted out to prepare for the NFL draft.

Perhaps the biggest change comes at the wide receiver position where the Tigers have lost Ja'Varrius Johnson, Omari Kelly, Jyaire Shorter, and Malcolm Johnson Jr. to the portal, and are now only listing two positions after having three all season.


Some key opt-outs include starting cornerbacks D.J. James and Nehemiah Pritchett and starting defensive tackle Marcus Harris, all of whome Hugh Freeze said he does not expect to play.

One player who hopes to play is starting safety Jaylin Simpson, who has already accepted his invitation to the Senior Bowl. He has been battling a hamstring injury and his health will determine if he is able to play in the game, Freeze said.

Here is a look at the full depth chart for Auburn’s final game of the 2023 season.


John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Starter: Payton Thorne

Backup: Holden Geriner

Running Back

Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

Starter: Jarquez Hunter

Backups: Damari Alston, Brian Battie, Jeremiah Cobb

Tight End

(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)

Starter: Rivaldo Fairweather OR Luke Deal

Backups: Brandon Frazier, Micah Riley

Wide Receiver

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Starter: Caleb Burton III OR Jay Fair

Wide Receiver

Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers
Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers

Starter: Camden Brown OR Shane Hooks

Backups: Koy Moore, Nick Mardner

Left Tackle

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Starter: Dillon Wade

Backup: Jaden Muskrat

Left Guard

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Starter: Gunner Britton

Backup: Tate Johnson


Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics
Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics

Starter: Avery Jones OR Connor Lew

Right Guard

Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports
Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

Starter: Kam Stutts

Backup: Jeremiah Wright OR Jalil Irvin

Right Tackle

Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers
Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers

Starter: Izavion Miller

Backup: Jaden Muskrat

Defenisve End

Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

Starter: Keldric Faulk

Backups: Zykevious Walker

Nose Tackle

Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

Starter: Justin Rogers

Backup: Jayson Jones

Defensive Tackle

(Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images)

Starter: Marcus Harris

Backup: Lawrence Johnson


© Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK
© Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK

Starter: Jalen McLeod

Backups: Elijah McAllister

Middle Linebacker

Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

Starter: Austin Keys

Backups: Larry Nixon III, Wesley Steiner

Weakside Linebacker

© Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
© Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK

Starter: Eugene Asante

Backup: Cam Riley

Fieldside Cornerback

Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Hinton-USA TODAY Sports

Starter: Kayin Lee

Backup: Colton Hood


Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers
Photo by Austin Perryman/Auburn Tigers

Starter: Keionte Scott

Backup: Donovan Kaufman, Champ Anthony

Field Safety

© Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK
© Jake Crandall / USA TODAY NETWORK

Starter: Jaylin Simpson

Backup: Caleb Wooden, Griffin Speaks

Weakside Safety

Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers
Photo by Zach Bland/Auburn Tigers

Starter: Zion Puckett

Backups: Terrance Love

Boundary Cornerback

© Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK
© Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK

Starter: Nehemiah Pritchett

Backups: J.D. Rhym

Punt Returner

Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Starter: Keionte Scott

Backup: Koy Moore

Kick Returner

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Starters: Brian Battie, Jarquez Hunter


Photo by Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers
Photo by Jamie Holt/Auburn Tigers

Punter: Oscar Chapman

Place Kicker: Alex McPherson

Holder: Oscar Chapman

Long Snapper: Jacob Quattlebaum OR Reed Hughes 

Story originally appeared on Auburn Wire

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Auburn begins TransPerfect Music City Bowl practice

Auburn University Athletics
8–10 minutes

AUBURN, Ala.  Two weeks before they take on Maryland in the TransPerfect Music City Bowl, the Auburn Tigers practiced Saturday, suiting up for the first time since the Iron Bowl three weeks earlier.

"I'm excited to start practice today," Auburn coach Hugh Freeze said. "I've missed our kids and seeing them around. That's always a good thing that we have put ourselves in position to get extra practices in. We're playing a very good opponent. It's going to be a great challenge for us."

Auburn will be without a trio of defensive standouts in the bowl game, lineman Marcus Harris and cornerbacks Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James, who are opting out to begin preparing for the NFL Draft.

"I just told these young guys they're going to get thrown in there," Freeze said. "It'll be fun to watch them. You're going to get those young corners, for sure. It'll be good to see how they prepare for a game and then go play a very talented football team."

Auburn's 2024 defense received a double dose of good news this week when defensive back Keionte Scott and linebacker Eugene Asante, whose 84 tackles are 36 more than his next closest teammate, announced they will remain on the Plains for their senior seasons.

"I'm really glad that people like Keionte and Eugene are coming back to help lead us," Freeze said. "I think they'll be great for these young kids since they are two of our great leaders and captain-material guys. They can help set the culture for our defense next year, so I'm thrilled that they're back."

Juggling bowl practice, recruiting and the roster management that comes with the transfer portal era requires coaches to be master multitaskers.

"It's very challenging," Freeze said. "The calendar has got to be looked at and changed somehow, someway for sanity and for what's good for our sport."

The Tigers will continue to practice on campus before taking a break for the holidays, wrapping up on Friday, Dec. 22, two days after Auburn signs the bulk of its 2024 high school recruiting class next Wednesday.

"I like the effort that we've put in to building relationships and to being thorough," Freeze said. "I feel like we're signing a really solid class for our first class here. There are always a few missing pieces that you'd like to have a few more of. But there is no doubt that if we get to the finish line with the kids we think we're going to get, we've improved ourselves."

Auburn will prioritize high school players in recruiting, then plug in those missing pieces with portal transfers, Freeze says, hoping to create a championship culture.

"I'm going to try the high school formula with needs from the portal," Freeze said. "We would really love to build it like that and get a relationship with kids and their families and try to hold on to them at Auburn and get Auburn to love them and them to love Auburn. I'm just hopeful that there's a group of guys that we can convince to do that."

The Tigers and Terrapins meet at Nashville's Nissan Stadium on Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. CT on ABC and the Auburn Sports Network.

AUBURN, AL - December 16, 2023 - Auburn Head Coach Hugh Freeze speaks to the media during a press conference at the Woltosz Football Performance Center in Auburn, AL.Photo by Austin Perryman Hugh Freeze's recruiting philosophy: 'Get Auburn to love them and them to love Auburn.'

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer

Players Mentioned

D.J.  James

#4 D.J. James

CB 6' 1" Junior Liberal Arts

Eugene Asante

#9 Eugene Asante

LB 6' 1" Junior Liberal Arts

Marcus Harris

#50 Marcus Harris

DL 6' 3" Senior Liberal Arts

Nehemiah  Pritchett

#1 Nehemiah Pritchett

CB 6' 1" Senior Liberal Arts

Keionte  Scott

#0 Keionte Scott

CB 6' 0" Junior Liberal Arts
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Hugh Freeze plans on sticking with Payton Thorne as Auburn’s top QB next year

Updated: Dec. 16, 2023, 4:48 p.m.|Published: Dec. 16, 2023, 1:27 p.m.
~4 minutes

Iron Bowl 2023

Auburn quarterback Payton Thorne (1) looks to try one last throw at the end of an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)AP

It’s the “cool thing” to chase a big-name quarterback in the transfer portal, Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze said. With every name that announced their intention to move, Freeze said people would text him saying to “throw the bag” at him — meaning to find a way to give a big pool of money to a transferring player.

That’s not Freeze’s plan. He likes what he’s got already. So the plan for 2024 appears to be sticking with Payton Thorne.

“I believe in Payton,” Freeze said during a Saturday press conference ahead of Auburn’s first bowl practice. “I believe in Holden (Geriner). I believe in Hank (Brown) and I believe the kid (2024 QB commit Walker White) we’ve got coming. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. That’s my belief.”

Thorne won a quarterback battle against Robby Ashford during fall camp, but maintained a quarterback rotation with Ashford going into the first half of the season.

On Friday, news broke that Ashford plans to enter the transfer portal. Freeze confirmed the report Saturday, and said he wishes Ashford the best.

Freeze said he saw Thorne develop over the course of the season, especially after he became more comfortable with the offense after an Oct. 21 loss to Ole Miss. Thorne transferred to Auburn from Michigan State after spring practices wrapped up, meaning he didn’t practice with Auburn until fall camp opened in August.

During Auburn’s first seven games, it was clear Thorne was still learning, and rotating with Ashford did not help.

Thorne finished the 2023 regular season completing just under 63% of his passes and throwing for 1,671 yards. He had 16 touchdowns against nine interceptions. He added 520 rushing yards, by far the most of his career.

Freeze reminded reporters about how successful Thorne was when he was surrounded by NFL talent on his offense. In 2021, Thorne led Michigan State to a Peach Bowl win throwing for more than 3,200 yards. He was surrounded by NFL starting running back Kenneth Walker III, second-round wide receiver Jayden Reed and future first-round receiver Keon Coleman.

Auburn didn’t have that type of talent. It showed.

Auburn has not strongly pursued a quarterback in the transfer portal for that reason. Instead, Auburn put its emphasis on wide receivers and offensive linemen around Thorne. Freeze said he believes if Auburn brought in a quarterback from the portal, it might cause Thorne to transfer out.

Freeze also suggested that many transfer portal quarterbacks have found far more success in their second years at a new school compared to their first. Michael Penix was a Heisman finalist in his second year at Washington. Former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix joined Penix in New York City during his second year at Oregon.

Thorne may not develop into a Heisman finalist. But Freeze believes he can build an offense around him to succeed.

Matt Cohen covers Auburn sports for AL.com. You can follow him on X at @Matt_Cohen_ or email him at mcohen@al.com

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Thanks Fiddy. Did not catch you this morning. Mrs Salty been a little “under the weather”. Did make it to small group at church then enjoyed watching Auburn handle USC in basketball this afternoon.

Cool cloudy damp day on the Plains but life is good. Keep them coming early please.

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