On Monday, Phillip Marshall of AuburnUndercover.com reported (subscription required) that freshman middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy will make his first career start against Vanderbilt when the Auburn Tigers take on the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday in Nashville. He will replace junior middle linebacker Jake Holland.
McKinzy is not the first player that will get significant playing time from the top-10 (according to Rivals) 2012 recruiting class that Auburn reeled in. Patrick Miller, Jonathan Wallace, Avery Young, Joshua Holsey, Jonathan Jones and Ricardo Louis have also seen playing time in 2012. Everyone but Young's playing time has increased with each passing Saturday.
What does this surge of playing time by freshmen mean for the 2012 season and beyond?
Auburn’s decision to play these true freshmen says that it thinks the future is now for Auburn football.
A lot of the playing time can be attributed to guys in front of the freshmen being injured or “dinged up.” In other places, like linebacker, it came down to lack of productivity.
In the case of Miller, he supplanted himself at starter over Young at right tackle in Week 4 against LSU. Wallace, Holsey, Jones and Louis have all seen increasingly more playing time as the weeks go on.
Normally, true freshmen that do not redshirt get their feet wet at the college level by participating on the special teams units.
Beginning with LSU, freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace burned his redshirt and took snaps for the first time as an Auburn QB. Auburn fans are still waiting to see his arm, and it is only a matter of time before they will.
Against Ole Miss, freshmen Jonathan Jones and Joshua Holsey were listed as starting cornerbacks. Each played a significant amount of snaps against the Rebels.
The Auburn coaching staff knows (though it won’t admit it) that it is time to start thinking about 2013. The more exposure these players get in 2012, the less shell-shocked they will be when they step onto the field on Aug. 31, 2013.
More freshmen participation also speaks to the development of those scholarship players. The players are developing at a rate fast enough to where they can compete for playing time against players that have been at the college level at least one year longer than they have.
The freshmen that Auburn has chosen to play (and start) says that Auburn has made the decision to turn its eyes to the future. After a 1-5 start to the 2012 season, it hopes that future is much brighter than the dark days the program is in now.