AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Hugh Freeze’s to-do list includes choosing, or perhaps bringing in, a quarterback who can revive one of the nation’s worst passing offenses and closing the talent gap with Auburn’s rivals in the Southeastern Conference.
Tempering expectations for the near future is also on there somewhere.
Freeze is set to wrap up his first spring on the Plains on Saturday with those endeavors very much in progress, and wants to emphasize to fans attending the A-Day scrimmage that “unrealistic expectations lead to frustration.”
Freeze, after all, took over a proud program that hasn’t won more than six games in any of the past three seasons and went 5-11 in SEC games during the past two — much of it comprising the 21-game tenure of Bryan Harsin. Auburn also continued to lag farther behind in recruiting to chief rivals Alabama and Georgia.
“Our fan base, I hope they heard me,” said Freeze, who received a six-year contract worth at least $6.5 million annually in November. “I want them to be excited. Man, I want to give them something to be (excited about): man, our kids are competing. They love to play the game, they’re doing it the right way. They’re playing with passion. And they’re in some games because of that.
“But also be realistic of where we’ve been and where we want to go, and how fast can that happen? I don’t know. But everybody’s got to look at that with wide-open eyes and see that this is who we are currently.”
That starts at quarterback. Robby Ashford, T.J. Finley and redshirt freshman Holden Geriner are vying for the lead coming out of spring, though Freeze already indicated that the battle will carry into preseason camp.
He also figures to explore the transfer portal to potentially bolster the position, even if none of the three current contenders seek to move on. That’s seldom a sure thing these days.
Auburn pursued Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall, who stayed put, and North Carolina’s Devin Leary but Leary picked Kentucky.
Freeze said “many others” reached out to Auburn after his hiring, some seeking assurances of their spot atop the quarterback pecking order. He didn’t want to bypass competition with such a guarantee.
“We might could have had one or two in the last portal had I told them certain words they wanted to hear,” Freeze said. “Like they’re the guy and all that. But I’m just not made that way. “We absolutely are going to look at every scenario that becomes an option. We’ll go down and look at, is that best for this program. And that’s ultimately what we have to do, is what’s best for the program.”
The next window to add transfers opens from April 15-30.
Freeze has already added 12 players from other college programs, including several additions to an offensive line that needed immediate help. That group includes Gunner Britton (Western Kentucky), Avery Jones (East Carolina) and Dillon Wade (Tulsa)
Freeze is also trying to reverse a trend of quarterbacks only emerging as stars after leaving Auburn. That includes Malik Willis, who went on to play for him at Liberty, and Bo Nix, a three-year Auburn starter who had easily his best season in 2022 after heading to Oregon.
Tigers quarterbacks collectively tallied just nine passing touchdowns last season while ranking 119th in passing yards per game, averaging 173. Ashford, a second-year player who had transferred from Oregon, started much of last season and flashed running ability while completing just 49% of his passes.
Finley opened the season as starter after coming in from LSU, but threw just one touchdown pass against four interceptions. He only played in four games, partly because of a shoulder injury.
Geriner played briefly in only one game as a freshman. Freshman Hank Brown, who Freeze recruited at Liberty, is also set to join the mix.
“The interesting thing will be their response to the competition that has been created that will continue to go on,” Freeze said. “And being the quarterback to me at an SEC school, at a place like Auburn, carries a lot of weight to it. And that weight doesn’t end when spring practice 15 is over. How does that go through summer, what does that look like in the leadership of this team?
“That will all play into ultimately who gets that first nod. It will be interesting to see how all respond to that.”