The Auburn Tigers will scrimmage for the first time during preseason camp Thursday and all eyes will be on the quarterback position. Redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and true freshman Bo Nix are currently in a heated battle for the coveted spot which, as of right now, is too close to call.
I don’t remember two freshman competing to be the starting quarterback on the Plains ever before, but it’s a brave new world in college football and these young bucks aren’t exactly like the freshman of yesteryear. Kids are just physically readier to compete right out of high school these days because of better strength, conditioning and nutrition. Graduating early and going through spring practice also accelerates the learning process exponentially.
Talk about a strange year, even Auburn’s third string quarterback, Cord Sandberg, Cord Sandberg is a freshman — albeit 24 years old.
Will it be Gatewood or Nix? Well, that’s the $64,000 question and I wouldn’t bet a dollar either way right this second.
For the record, I believe it will be Gatewood who takes the first snap against Oregon, but I won’t be surprised in the least if Nix wins the job.
A better question might be who should win the job? Considering neither man has practically any experience on the college level (Gatewood got one drive against Purdue in the bowl game), that’s a pretty difficult question to answer as well.
Both candidates are extremely athletic and each has his own particular strengths.
Gatewood led his Florida high school team to the Class 7A state finals, throwing for nearly 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns. He is 6-foot-5 and weighs 235 pounds.
Nix won back-to-back Class 6A state championships at Pinson Valley and holds the record for total offense in Alabama high school football history with over 12,000 yards. He threw for 127 touchdowns and rushed for 34 more in his career. He is 6-foot-2 and weighs 215 pounds. While incredibly impressive, high school numbers don’t mean squat in the SEC.
Gus Malzahn’s offense is clearly most effective if the quarterback is a true threat to run the football. That does not mean running enough to keep the defense honest. That means the quarterback approaching 800 rushing yards or more for the season. Gatewood appears to fit that mold. He also has a very strong arm and has reportedly been fine-tuning his accuracy.
Nix was the No. 1 dual threat quarterback in the country. I think people underestimate his athleticism, but I just don’t see him being nearly as effective as Gatewood with his legs. I do believe he’s already a more polished passer and could be prolific throwing the ball in college.
Jarrett Stidham was not a runner, but he was mobile. He proved in 2017 the Auburn offense can be dominant with a player like Nix at the helm.
Of course, there are several other factors that have nothing to do with physicality. This race could very well be decided by the intangibles — things like patience, grit and leadership. Can he make a throw with a 300-pound defensive lineman in his face? Is he able to maintain his composure in the worst of circumstances?
Unfortunately, a lot of those questions can’t be answered in practice, but we’ll find out soon enough.