chestnut finally found his transfer defender. After a long offseason of searching and several misses, the Tigers landed Peyton Thorne from Michigan State on Friday afternoon. He is a strong addition for Auburn. Thorne brings two years of starting experience and projects to help a Tigers offense that ranked 119th nationally last season in yards per game. Thorne is rated 87 in the 247Sports Transfer Portal Rankings, making him a high three-star prospect.
But is Thorne even necessarily a lock to start?
Thorne’s commitment flared debate between 247Sports national college football analysts Chris Hummer and Clint Brewster over whether or not Thorne is an upgrade given the presence of returning starting quarterback Robbie Ashford, who shined at times last season after transferring from Oregon. Below, Hummer and Brewster make the case for who should start for the Tigers in 2022.
THORNE CAN MAKE AUBURN BETTER IN 2023
“Auburn came out of spring practice with a need at quarterback and filled it ably with Peyton Thorne. While some may have gotten a little mad at Thorne during Michigan State’s up-and-down 2022 season, there’s still data to show he’s still an average-to-above-average power Five starter. Thorne had the 35th best QBR in the nation, took care of the football (with a decent 3% field goal percentage) and posted an adjusted completion percentage of 71.7%. Thorne isn’t necessarily a game-changer for Auburn’s offense, but he is a steady presence that the Tigers lacked last year.
“At worst, Thorne is an experienced arm who can push Robbie Ashford. If Auburn’s o-line is a disaster again, then I say keep the mobile Ashford there and develop him through reps. But if the o-line is better? Thorne provides a pass-rushing predictability that Ashford lacks and could lead to a better result in 2023. Ashford had an adjusted completion percentage of just 62.2 in 2022 (worst in the SEC) and also exposed the ball to danger too often with 4.4% turnover- a decent percentage per game. Thorne’s ceiling may be lower than Ashford’s, but you know what you’re going to get from week to week. And that’s invaluable for a Tigers offense last season that was anything but consistent.” — Chris Hummer
NO, THE JOB IS STILL ON ROBBIE ASHFORD
“I think Robbie Ashford ends up winning the job ahead of Thorne. Ashford had moments where he showed the type of quarterback he could be last season, making some spectacular downfield throws when escaping the pocket and also using his legs to carry the offense at times. Auburn had all kinds of dysfunction last season, and Ashford still put together some solid performances, like when he completed 24 of 33 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for 87 yards on 19 carries against Arkansas. He is an elite runner with the football and also rushed for 121 yards and two scores against Alabama. Ashford is by far the better athlete who can change the dynamic of the game with his feet and I think his arm is probably more talented as well.
“The Tigers are in desperate need of wide receivers to step up (they also added Caleb Burton over the weekend), but if that’s still an issue, then Ashford gives them more on offense with his ability to run the ball.” If Ashford can speed up his handling and accuracy, he could actually be a very good QB in the SEC. He’s only a sophomore, but now he’s getting the guidance of Hugh Freeze, who knows exactly how to develop a dual-threat quarterback with a skill set like Ashford’s. Freese knows how to marry the passing game with the quarterback-run to threaten defenses, and Ashford is the perfect quarterback for that.
“Auburn could certainly have issues on the offensive line, although it took huge steps to upgrade through the transfer window, and there’s no doubt who gives them the best chance if that’s the case.” Expect Ashford to hold down the starting job and continue to make huge strides under Freeze.” — Clint Brewster