The decision has been made. Hugh Freeze's Auburn football program's offensive attack will be led by Payton Thorne, barring Holden Geriner beating him out in fall camp, during the 2024 season.
That decision is one of immense gravity. Thorne had a hit-or-miss debut season on the Plains in 2023, with those misses being notable. While Thorne looked like a bona fide star against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Arkansas, he failed to reach the 100-yard passing plateau against Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, and even Cal.
As Thorne pointed out, though, he didn't have a proper preseason before taking on one of the most high-pressure jobs in the country as Auburn's quarterback.
"Coming in the middle of the year in the summer, not having spring ball, not having a full fall camp either because you're splitting reps -- and through the first few games of the season, as well," Thorne said (h/t Rivals).
Those games where he was on, though? That 230-passing yard outing against Mississippi State? Or his four-touchdown masterpiece -- with the cherry on top being his trucking of Razorbacks DB Lorando Johnson -- against Arkansas in Fayetteville? That's what Thorne foresees in 2024.
"I think toward the second half of the year, you got a glimpse of what we could be," Thorne prefaced before saying, "It still wasn't perfect; we can still be a lot better than what we were. I think that's what we're going to be next year."
Auburn football betting on continuity over talent in 2024
Talent doesn't always lead to success. If it did, the programs with the top recruiting classes would be at the top of the standings every season. While mostly true, there's always room for a TCU, Cincinnati, or hell, any Auburn team to have played for a national championship in the modern era.
In backing Thorne, AU is punting on the potential of a more talented transfer portal arm,
And saving significant money doing so, in favor of familiarity and continuity; something the Tigers have lacked in the NIL era.
This decision could define Freeze's tenure, since there will be far less grace from just about everyone if the results in 2024 aren't a significant leap from this past season.