An unspecified academic issue may have cost Hugh Freeze his desired Auburn football transfer portal quarterback, Coastal Carolina’s Grayson McCall — causing the Tigers to settle on ex-Michigan State starter Payton Thorne.
Thorne finally snapped his conference play-long malaise with a breakout showing against Mississippi State on October 28, but in many ways, it was too little too late. AU had dropped their first four SEC games of the season, and the 2023 campaign could now realistically only be remembered for an Iron Bowl upset that can potentially spoil Alabama’s College Football Playoff hopes.
Year one was billed as a rebuilding year as the losses were starting to pile up, but Freeze certainly didn’t operate like that was the case in the offseason; rebuilding the offensive line with grad transfers from the portal and bringing on high-potential wideouts and tight ends transfers after Bryan Harsin’s regime falling apart caused a mass exodus for skill position players.
It’s hard not to wonder what the Tigers’ ceiling would’ve been had Freeze landed his preferred target.
Payton Thorne could have an epic Auburn football redemption arc with a strong finish to the 2023 season
For whatever reason, it doesn’t appear as though Freeze has any faith in Robby Ashford as Auburn’s QB1, instead preferring to deploy him in special packages. With that, Thorne is clearly the starter moving forward, with the Mississippi State game being his role-clincher; critics be damned.
Those same critics, to be clear, can be silenced for good down the stretch here in 2023. And a second year of starting could be on the table for Thorne after that statement seemed impossible following AU’s Week 8 loss to Ole Miss.
What started as a season filled with fans being frustrated with the clumsy two-quarterback system could turn into one hell of a redemption arc for Thorne.