AUBURN, Ala. – Transfer Payton Thorne has won Auburn's starting quarterback job.
Coach Hugh Freeze said Thursday that the Michigan State transfer is set to start for the Tigers in their opener Sept. 2 against Massachusetts. Thorne, who signed with Auburn in May, has been competing with returning starter Robby Ashford and redshirt freshman Holden Geriner.
“The reason Payton is getting the nod is just the leadership ability and understanding of the offense,” Freeze said. "He’s been in some really good battles, and it just seems like he was more efficient in the decision-making to this point. Not that the others were terrible by any means. It was not just a slam-dunk."
Freeze and Thorne are trying to improve a passing game that ranked 119th in yards per game last season, averaging just 173. Ashford proved dangerous as a runner and completed only 49% of his passes while Tigers quarterbacks combined for just nine passing touchdowns.
Inconsistent quarterback play has plagued Auburn in recent seasons and contributed to the Tigers' sixth-place finishes in the Southeastern Conference Western Division in the past two years.
Freeze emphasized that Ashford would have a role in the offense and said he hoped he continues to compete.
“My gut is saying it’s the time to do this, to get us best prepared for the opening of the season,” Freeze said. “I’m hoping that all three will handle that news extremely well and continue to work.
“I believe with all my heart Robby Ashford gives us an absolute better chance to win the game if he accepts this news and continues to work and develops himself, because he might be the most freakish athlete I’ve ever had at quarterback."
Thorne was a two-time team captain for the Spartans, going 16-10 as a starter. He left ranking fourth in career touchdown passes at Michigan State, fifth in completion percentage and sixth in passing yards.
Thorne started all 12 games last season, passing for 2,679 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The fifth-year senior, who has two years of eligibility remaining, led Michigan State to a Peach Bowl victory.
Spartans coach Mel Tucker had said the two-year starter was part of an open competition during the spring.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll