The Auburn Tigers have found their quarterback. Sean White had a decent year last year, and is serviceable, but Jarrett Stidham, the sophomore Baylor transfer, is dynamic, explosive and extremely accurate with the football and has with underrated, excellent mobility. Stidham is what you are looking for in a prototypical quarterback, college or NFL. Auburn can win a lot of games with Jarrett Stidham under center with all the talent he has around him in the backfield, some emerging weapons on the perimeter, and an excellent offensive line led by senior right tackle Braden Smith (6'6", 305) and center Austin Golson ( 6'5", 314).
Stidham, 6'2", 210, completed 16 of 20 passes for 267 yards, and despite not throwing a TD, he made some hugely explosive plays in the passing game with stud sophomore wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers, some nice intermediate throw, catch and run plays with Will Hastings, some explosive plays with Darius Slayton and a couple of nice throws to Ryan Davis. All four of those receivers looked excellent. Junior tight end Jalen Harris showed some good talent with a couple of nice catch and runs in the game played before 46,331 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Craig-Myers, a 98, 4 star in the 2016 class, who was one of the top rated wide receivers in the nation in the 2016 rankings, caught 5 passes for 154 yards including a couple of deep ones, one a 50 yarder. He's a dynamic, take it to the house weapon for the Tigers in the aerial game. Nate is 6'2", 208. Hastings looks like a Wes Welker type player and is a highly effective target for Stidham or Sean White, though I'm leaning heavily towards Stidham and actually think true freshman Malik Willis, 6'1", 185, is a stud and can supplant White as Stidham's backup. Willis has a great future if he'll stick it out because he's quite a quarterback. White is going to have a hard time finding the field next year unless he turns it up major league in August. Hastings caught 7 passes for 75 yards. He's awesome. He's not big in stature at 5'10", 175, but he's a playmaker and a winning football player. Slayton also caught some big balls from Stidham. Darius caught 3 passes for 65 yards, including a 46 yarder. Ryan Davis caught 2 passes for 41 yards and Marquis McClain made a huge catch and run on a 69 yard reception he caught over the middle from freshman Devin Adams that he hauled in at the 45 and took to the house outrunning everybody on the defense. Slayton is another taller receiver at 6'2", 191, Davis, who caught 25 passes for 194 yards and a TD last year, is 5'9", 175, but is highly effective as a receiver. He can get open and has excellent hands and speed. Eli Stove didn't play in the spring game, but he is pretty stellar as well. The rising sophomore caught 23 passes for 224 yards last year and ran for 134 yards and a 7 before getting hurt. Auburn had issues with injuries last year, particularly on offense.
While some might say Stidham's performance was in a spring game and not as significant, I disagree. It matters. Any time you play in a live situation and perform like Stidham did, it's impressive. He's a big time college quarterback this season. Auburn is in good hands under center. Malik Willis is some kind of player, too, so if Stidham happened to go down, Gus and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey wouldn't hesitate to put Willis in. He's going to be a big time player. I know Sean White is still in the mix, but those two really stood out to me. Another thing on Stidham, he has terrific playing experience from 2 years ago as a true freshman at Baylor. In the games he played, he completed 75 of 109 passes, 69%, for 12 TDs against only 2 INT's. In his three starts, he was 23-of-33 for 419 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INT's against Kansas State, a 31-24 Baylor victory, was 16-of-27 for 257 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs in a 44-34 loss to Oklahoma. That was against an OU team that made the playoff in 2015 before losing to Clemson handily in the semifinal at the Rose Bowl. Against Oklahoma State, in the game he got hurt in, Stidham was 12-of-21 for 258 yards in a 45-35 Baylor victory. That was an unbelievable year for Baylor. They were working on their 4th quarterback by the time they got to the Russell Athletic bowl vs North Carolina, and had aspirations of making the playoff until a slew of injuries really hurt them, but still found a way to pummel Gene Chizik and the North Carolina defense, 49-38.
So Stidham's resume is pretty spectacular looking. You throw in a good stable of running backs along with an outstanding looking offensive line, and you've got a potent offense. Kamryn Pettway didn't play in the spring, but Gus and Lindsey know they have a great one there. Kam ran for 1,224 yards and 7 TDs in 2016, and battled some ankle injuries like it seemed like most of the skilled player on the Auburn offense did, particularly at running back. But Kam is special. So is Kerryon Johnson. Kerryon ran for 895 yards and 11 TDs last year, and was having a super spring game until he got tackled by the ankles and suffered a high ankle sprain in the game. He had already run for 47 yards and looked excellent. He'll be ready come August. That's an excellent 1-2 tandem for the Tigers at running back. I really like Malik Miller as a runner. He showed some signs last year that he'd be a good player. Miller comes from the same high school in Huntsville, Madison High, that Kerryon played at, and I really like him.. He had some good runs in the spring game. At 5'11", 235, he's a load who can run between the tackles and also possesses excellent speed that can create explosive plays. Kam Martin, who also got hurt last year, is another one to watch. Kam Pettway is 6'0", 237 and Kerryon is 6'0", 204. Kam Pettway and Kerryon are juniors. Malik is a sophomore. I was also pretty impressed with junior C.J. Tolbert out of the backfield. Horton is small in height at 5'7", but he's a tough 187 pounder who likes to mix it up. He's good.
So the offense looks set.
On defense, 8 starters return, so this group should be good to go. They were good last year. Kevin Steele told Brock Huard of ESPN that he wants "30 starters," meaning he wants at least 30 guys who he can count on defensively. With defensive end Marlon Davidson (6'3", 282), and Derrick Brown 6'5", 316) at defensive tackle, Auburn has some stars up front. Byron Cowart needs to realize his massive potential. The 6'3", 283 defensive end was a 5 star, top 10 player, in 2015, so he needs to live up to it. I've heard he's showing signs of it. Tre' Williams (6'2', 225 SR) and Deshaun Davis (5'11", 246, JR) are the leaders and the playmakers on the second level for the Tigers at linebacker. Really like both of those guys. Tray Matthews (6'1", 209, SR) is a leader and a ball hawk at strong safety, and the awesome Carlton Davis (6'1", 203, JR) returns at corner. There is good talent and depth in the secondary.
Daniel Carlson is back to kick and he looks ready for an All-American season this year as he kicked 5-of-5 field goals in the spring game. He connected from 55 yards on one of his kicks and he also connected on a 60 yarder with what looked like 5 or 6 yards to spare at the end of practice with a little bit of pressure. He's superb. Punting duties could go to Ian Shannon, but with Shannon out on a family engagement during the spring game, Carlson punted and averaged close to 42 yards. He can do it all. Kerryon can return kicks, maybe Malik Miller, and Stephen Roberts and Ryan Davis are listed as the punt returners. Those are pretty explosive players. Kam Martin could also return kickoffs with his sub 4.4 speed.
The recruiting class was ranked 9th in the country, and had 14 four stars. Don't know who will play though. Malik Willis showed he could step in at quarterback if necessary. It was a solid class with 9 ESPN 300 players. A lot of very good players in the class who could see time in the rotations. August will determine that. There are some really good upperclassmen on this team though, so it might be tough for those young guys to crack the lineup, but you never know with how injuries could shake out. Some of those talented guys could be needed. There is a lot of talent in the 2017 signing class
The Tigers open with Georgia Southern at home on Saturday, Sept. 2. Georgia Southern won the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl and finished 9-4. They slipped to 5-7 last year. They run the triple option which causes defenses problems. So Auburn will have to be prepared for that trickeration offense. Week 2 is at Death Valley and the Clemson Tigers in a huge contest, Saturday, Sept. 9th. Wow, what a classic that should be. Will have write up on Clemson early next week along with Florida State. Dabo's cupboard is always loaded now, but they're breaking in a new quarterback, so there's inexperience there. Auburn definitely has a shot at Clemson. Mercer Sept. 16 at home, @ Missouri, Sept. 23rd, not easy, home versus Mississippi State, Sept. 30, home versus Ole Miss, Oct. 7, @LSU, Oct. 14, @Arkansas, Oct. 21, off, @A&M Nov. 4, @home vs Georgia Nov. 11, La Monroe at home, Nov. 18, then the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, Nov. 25th in what could really be an epic for both SEC and national purposes.
I really like this Auburn Tigers football team. Stidham is the real deal, there are playmakers all over the field, the offensive line is deep, big and physical, the defense looks loaded and can get turnovers, sacks, tackles for loss, all of that. There's good size and athletic ability up front, good size and athletic ability at linebacker and super physical players with ball hawking skills in the secondary. Daniel Carlson is an all world kicker. I can see a run at an SEC championship for this football team. @ Clemson in week 2, though the Tigers don't need to look past game 1, is a big game. The games at home against the Mississippi schools are big. Both State and Ole Miss have good quarterbacks in the dynamic Nick Fitzgerald for State and Shea Patterson for Ole Miss. Then @ LSU and @ Arkansas in October, and, after a bye week, @ A&M Nov. 4th are huge season changing games. Georgia at home the next week in the Deep South's oldest rivalry will be a massive challenge for the Tigers facing Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and quarterback Jacob Eason who are all three trying to put Georgia back on the radar in the SEC and in the national landscape. Georgia will be much improved and challenging for the SEC title. Then, of course, the Iron Bowl, which could be a majorly important one along with all the importance of the game to begin with.
So, like all SEC teams, the Tigers have their work cut out for them to play in a major postseason game or games. But an SEC Championship and a playoff spot is certainly attainable with good health, because the talent is certainly there. I don't like to put a number on victories for a team because to me that limits them. Auburn definitely looks like a double digit victory team. Like everybody else, key players need to stay healthy. But if that happens, this team has a shot for a tremendous 2017 season.
Auburn players drafted
Montravius Adams 3rd round to the Packers; Carl Lawson, 4th round to the Cincinnati Bengals; Rudy Ford, 6th round to the Arizona Cardinals; Josh Holsey, 7th round to the Redskins.
Pick for Wells Fargo Championship on PGA Tour this week
Kisner almost won last week in a two man team event with Scott Brown at the Zurich Classic. Kisner and Brown lost in a playoff to Euros Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith. I like the 33 year old from Aiken, South Carolina to get the job done this week at Eagle Point Golf Club (7,259 yards, par 72) in Wilmington, N.C.
Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, which usually hosts this event, will be hosting a very important event in August, the 99th PGA Championship, so Eagle Point gets this tournament. Jimmy Walker won the PGA Championship last year at Baltusrol Golf Club. Interesting course in Wilmington though. Should be a compelling Sunday. Will have a thorough golf column next week as the Players Championship commences next Thursday. The tour's fifth major, as the Tour players have labeled it, is a goal for all the big names on tour every year. Should be riveting at TPC Sawgrass next week.
The Blazers out of spring football look pretty darn good. I'll take a look at Bill Clark's squad, a team the city should be excited about.