Auburn football is entering a new era under head coach Gus Malzahn and a heap of elite recruiting classes, but no decision the newly named coach makes this month is more important than at quarterback.
Four quarterbacks—Nick Marshall, Jeremy Johnson, Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace—started fall camp with a shot at the job, but it was reduced to two on Monday.
According to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com, Marshall and Johnson are now splitting first-team reps. Frazier, who started early on in 2012, was moved to safety, and Wallace is staying at QB behind the two co-starters.
Per Erickson, Malzahn feels good about both Marshall and Johnson moving forward:
"Both of them have extremely live arms. They both can run, and both of them are athletic," Malzahn said. "It’s just a matter of how quick they can get acclimated. We’re still looking for a couple of different situations to see how they react and see how their teammates react."
Let's take a closer look at each quarterback and analyze what each brings to the table.
This true freshman was one of the most highly touted gunslingers in the 2013 class, ranking as the 11th-best pro-style quarterback per 247Sports Composite.
It just so happens that he's stepped into a situation where his coaching staff is willing to give him a real shot at winning the starting job right off the bat.
The 6'5", 215-pound freshman from Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala. has a leg up from playing in a version of Malzahn's fast-paced offense in high school according to Mike Marshall of 247Sports.
Marshall also pointed out that Malzahn wasn't afraid to start a true freshman while at Arkansas in 2006, when Mitch Mustain's familiarity with the offense got him the starting job early on.
Could Johnson's experience with the Malzahn system give him the upper hand?
Only time will tell, but the fact that he's so tightly in the mix as one of the final two quarterbacks says a lot. It's just easy to envision him getting the keys to this offense sooner rather than later in his Tigers career.
Marshall is a junior coming out of Garden City Community College, and as one of the highest-ranked JUCO stars (per 247Sports), he put up big numbers to get the upgrade to Auburn.
According to NCJAA, Marshall finished third in JUCO in yards per game and sixth in completions.
Just as deadly as his passing abilities is his speed and athleticism, which makes him a dangerous dual-threat quarterback who can get to the second level with his feet in no time. He racked up 19 touchdowns on the ground last season with Garden City to 18 in the air.
At 6'2" and 205 pounds, he won't tower over offensive linemen as well as Johnson, but he's certainly more mobile and should be able to get out of more collapsed pockets. That may bode well for Malzahn's speed-up offense.
However, Johnson is no slouch on the ground either.
Both quarterbacks bring a lot to the table and have differentiating talents that will make the decision especially tough for Malzahn's staff.