When Hugh Freeze was introduced as the new Auburn head coach, he did not hide quarterback play would be very important for his team. Freeze and offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery have both had good success with developing quarterbacks. A recent example is Freeze turning former Auburn backup Malik Willis into an NFL draft pick while at Liberty. During his time as an offensive coordinator at Houston and Baylor, Montgomery coached future NFL quarterbacks Case Keenum, Kevin Kolb, and Robert Griffin III. He spent the last eight seasons as the head coach for the Tulsa Golden Hurricane.
Auburn possessed the worst passing offense in the SEC in 2022 with 172.7 yards per game. The Tigers were also near the bottom of the conference with just nine touchdown passes and a 51.6% completion rate. Robby Ashford took over the reigns at quarterback early in the season after an injury to T.J. Finley. Ashford brought a lot of grit and athleticism, but showed he needed more development. He completed just 49% of his passes and had just as many touchdowns as interceptions at 7. However, he was second on the team in rushing with 710 yards and seven touchdowns.
Holden Geriner could be the most gifted passer on the team, but he is also the most inexperienced. The former four-star recruit from Georgia only attempted three passes last season for a total of eight yards. That was in spot duty when Ashford had gone down with an injury against Missouri. During the Auburn A-Day Game neither quarterback was able to show much due to inclement weather.
After the conclusion of spring practice, Hugh Freeze mentioned that he would be looking to add players and that included quarterback. They accomplished that with the addition of Michigan State transfer quarterback Payton Thorne.
Thorne had a big season in 2021 when the Spartans went 11-2. He was fourth in the Big Ten with 3,240 yards and third with 27 touchdowns. Perhaps his biggest performance was against Pittsburgh in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl throwing for 354 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-21 victory. The team did struggle in 2022 going 5-7, but Thorne still had a solid season. He passed for 2,679 yards and 19 touchdowns. Something that the Michigan State offense had to deal with was an always struggling pass defense.
Will Thorne become the 2023 starter, or will Ashford retain the starting job?