Payton Thorne, Jarquez Hunter, Jay Fair 'should help erase memory' of Auburn football futility: Analyst

Auburn v Arkansas
Auburn v Arkansas / Wesley Hitt/GettyImages

An intriguing trio was tabbed to be the potential saviors of the Auburn football program in 2024 by Mike Farrell Sports' Tony Thomas: quarterback Payton Thorne, running back Jarquez Hunter, and receiver Jay Fair.

"In addition to the three transfers listed above, Auburn returns 2023 starter at quarterback, Payton Thorne, Jay Fair at wide receiver, and running back Jarquez Hunter (over 2,000 rushing yards in his Auburn career)," Thomas wrote. "Thorne, Fair, and Hunter will be one year more experienced in Freeze’s system, and on paper, should help ease erase the memory of three consecutive losing seasons, something that has not occurred on The Plains in half a century."

Hunter figures to return to his role as the leading rusher in the Tigers' RB room, and Fair once again figures to be among the leading receivers; though he'll have serious competition with the Freeze Four of Cam Coleman, Perry Thompson, Bryce Cain, and Malcolm Simmons. Transfer Robert Lewis could be a dark horse breakout candidate as well.

But Thorne is the one question mark here considering how ineffective he was in 2023. His improvement, or his lack thereof that could still see Freeze's insist on sticking with the first QB he chose from the transfer portal in Auburn, could define the head coach's Plains tenure altogether.

Auburn football relying on internal improvements in 2024

If Freeze doesn't want to throw his Class of 2024 talent into the fire out of the gate, he'll be relying on internal improvement from the few holdovers from the Bryan Harsin era, including Hunter, Fair, Camden Brown, Damari Alston, Jeremiah Cobb, and Luke Deal to name a few, and his overhauled offensive line, tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, who was Thorne's favorite weapon last season, and essentially entire defense from the 2023 offseason.

There were flashes last season from that group, with near-upsets of Alabama, Ole Miss, and Georgia at home, but there was also quite a bit of disappointment on the road; with the LSU and Texas A&M matchups sticking out like sore thumbs.

An overhauled coaching staff with guys Freeze brought in should help AU's record improve, possibly enough to be a winning program again, as should an easier schedule.