Hugh Freeze trying to revitalize Auburn program, quarterback play in his latest SEC stop

Sec Media Days Football
Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Tuesday, July 18, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

AUBURN (AP) — Having already rebuilt his career, Hugh Freeze is trying to do the same thing for Auburn’s football program.

The coach’s return to the Southeastern Conference brought renewed hope to a demoralized fan base, along with some much-needed recruiting and transfer portal success.

Freeze, whose successful tenure at Mississippi had ended in scandal, isn’t promising instant success. But improvement seems likely after two lackluster seasons, mostly under Bryan Harsin, who was fired last October. Auburn has finished sixth in the SEC West each of the past two seasons, unfamiliar territory for a program whose last two coaches before Harsin had taken teams to national championship games with a title in 2010.

“I did sense coming in that the faith in the whole family of Auburn football was fractured somewhat, and I think that is where I had to start trying to repair that,” said Freeze, who spent the past four seasons at Liberty.

The other big priority was repairing a roster that had fallen well behind some of the Tigers’ SEC rivals. Freeze closed the 2023 recruiting cycle strong, added a number of transfers for immediate help and has picked up some big commitments for next year.

Freeze resigned from Ole Miss in the summer of 2017 after school officials uncovered a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a call to a number used by an escort service from a university-issued cellphone. The program ultimately landed on NCAA probation for 21 violations of academic, booster and recruiting misconduct mostly under Freeze’s watch.

Now, he’s back in the SEC with high expectations and a six-year deal worth at least $6.5 million annually.


The biggest imperative for this season was improving quarterback play, and eventually selecting a starter. Robby Ashford flashed playmaking abilities as a runner but completed just 49% of his passes last season. After the spring, Freeze added former Michigan State starter Payton Thorne to join Ashford and redshirt freshman Holden Geriner.

Onetime starter T.J. Finley transferred to Texas State.

The Tigers clearly need better play at the position after producing only nine passing touchdowns last season while ranking 119th in passing yards per game, averaging 173.

“We’ve been able to do things with quarterbacks everywhere we’ve been and produce good enough results to win,” Freeze said.


Freeze brought in 20-plus transfers, loading up in particular with offensive linemen and wide receivers, two of the team’s weaker spots in recent seasons.

He added 10 offensive linemen, including five from the transfer portal: Gunner Britton (Western Kentucky), Avery Jones (East Carolina), Dylan Senda (Northwestern) and Tulsa’s Dillon Wade and Jaden Muskrat. The defensive front seven also gets a boost from transfers, including several from within the SEC.


Auburn must replace three-year starter Tank Bigsby, who ran for nearly 3,000 yards before heading to the NFL. Jarquez Hunter has been an explosive backup, but was held out at the start of fall camp for unspecified reasons. Hunter has averaged 6.6 yards on 193 carries over his first two seasons.

It’s a fairly deep group. Brian Battie ran for 1,186 yards last season at South Florida, and the 5-foot-7, 170-pounder earned some All-America honors as a kick returner in 2021. Freshman Jeremiah Cobb joins the mix as well.


With players returning who started at least 11 games last season, Auburn didn’t need much immediate help in the defensive backfield. The Tigers return a group led by cornerbacks Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James, along with Keionte Scott, Jaylin Simpson and Zion Puckett.


Auburn faces a very manageable nonconference game compared to the team’s norm, with a Sept. 9 visit to California the most high profile. The Tigers do face three top SEC rivals, hosting No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama and visiting fifth-ranked LSU.

Categories: Alabama News, College Sports