Analyst sends ominous message about Hugh Freeze's Auburn football QB competition

Sep 30, 2023; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Hugh Freeze talks with quarterback
Sep 30, 2023; Auburn, Alabama, USA; Auburn Tigers head coach Hugh Freeze talks with quarterback / John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

On3's Jesse Simonton sees the Tigers' QB competition as the make-or-break element of Hugh Freeze's Auburn football head coaching stint on the Plains -- ranking him No. 10 overall in his SEC head coach rankings due to the lack of success at the position in 2023.

"Freeze remains the most difficult coach to rank in the SEC," Simonton prefaced before saying, "How do you weigh his accomplishments previously at Ole Miss (two wins over Nick Saban) versus his recent results at Liberty and Auburn?

"Year 1 on the Plains was full of frustration for Freeze, as the Tigers went 6-7 with an embracing blowout loss to New Mexico State and a no-show against Maryland (without starting quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa) in the bowl game. Freeze said it himself that, 'I don’t think I did a very good job.' Auburn’s staff has undergone all sorts of turnover this offseason, too. And yet, Freeze showcased his recruiting chops with another Top 10 class. The Tigers have done strong work in the portal, too. At every other stop in his career, Freeze has gotten the quarterback situation right. His potential success at Auburn hinges on him getting it right again, though."

Payton Thorne the key to Hugh Freeze's Auburn football success

Payton Thorne is the singular figure who will determine whether or not Freeze will have a successful tenure at AU.

Either Thorne will take a massive step forward -- figuring out the right balance between calling his own number in the run game and throwing more accurate balls in 2024 -- or he will prove unable to successfully transition from his home region conference, the Big Ten, to the brighter lights of the SEC.

Ultimately, nothing will be more important than Freeze either trusting that his first hand-picked starter can make that leap in year two with the Tigers or pulling the plug on him for a quarterback he brought in through the high school ranks in 2023 or 2024; with the transfer portal serving as an emergency option if the room looks lost this spring, an unlikely scenario with Hank Brown and Walker White looking impressive this offseason by all accounts.