When a freshman is recruited to replace a player who had perhaps the most dominating individual season in college football over the last 20 years, anticipations are high.
These are the expectations that have followed Auburn Tigers quarterback Kiehl Frazier from Springdale, Ark., to the Plains.
The expectations placed on Frazier are understandable because he is one of the most celebrated high school athletes in Arkansas high school history. Frazier led Shiloh Christian to three straight state championships and was named the MVP of the game each time.
While the expectations are understandable, the criticism is not.
Frazier has completed five of 10 passes and has rushed 45 times for 207 yards. While these are not mind-blowing stats, it should be noted that these numbers are right on track with those put up by former Florida Gator great Tim Tebow during his freshman season.
Tebow completed 22 of the 33 passes he attempted. He most notably rushed for 469 yards on 89 carries. Tebow, like Frazier until this point, attempted very few passes his freshman season. He was brought in as a rushing specialist. Tebow averaged 5.3 yards per game. Frazier is currently averaging 4.6 yards per carry.
While Tebow’s and Frazier’s early stats are comparable, the seasoned talent around them is not.
Tebow was surrounded by a cast of players who would win the BCS National Championship that season. Frazier, on the other hand, is surrounded by a team that is at least one season, if not two seasons, away from being BCS contenders again.
The statistic that has Tiger fans worried are the two interceptions that he has thrown. However, that must be expected by a player who is a true freshman and who is playing only situational minutes. This is the reason that I was calling for Frazier to become the starter against Ole Miss in the preseason.
He is going to make mistakes. However, it is better to get them out of the way before next season. Consider the way the Georgia Bulldogs handled Matthew Stafford his freshman season. Stafford was perhaps the most hyped Bulldog quarterback recruit in Georgia history.
Mark Richt decided to start the Stafford era during Week 3 versus UAB. Stafford played well in that game, but would be yanked in the second half against Colorado. The next few games were up and down for Stafford. In fact, the whole season played out that way.
Stafford finished the season with 13 interceptions and only seven touchdowns.
Richt, however, stopped worrying about the season record and just allowed Stafford to take his lumps. Georgia had a streak where they lost four out of five games. Stafford slowly found his groove, and the Bulldogs finished the season winning their last three games.
Stafford would respond his sophomore season because of the experience and passed for 20 touchdowns and only gave away 10 interceptions. His completion percentage increased and he passed for 800 more yards.
Most importantly, the Bulldogs would finish No. 2 in the nation his sophomore season.
There are different ways that coach Gene Chizik could approach these final games of the season. However, there is only one way that Auburn fans should finish the season, and that is “All-In." I believe in Frazier just as strongly as I did when I predicted he would one day be a Heisman Trophy winner.
The critics are going to be there, and I am not sure why. Is it a hatred for the Tigers? Is it because of a leftover resentment toward Cam Newton? I am not sure—but it is not based on history.
Perhaps the most insulting and borderline ignorant criticism I have heard of Frazier is that he is just not smart enough to play quarterback and grasp the offense. Frazier is a bright kid who could have gotten a scholarship on academics and ACT scores alone.
Frazier is a fine young man. Frazier is an elite athlete and will finish his career as an Auburn Tiger legend. Period.