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Phil Steele predicts Robby Ashford will win Auburn's quarterback battle over Payton Thorne

By Lance Dawe,


Auburn went out and got the quarterback they wanted in the transfer portal this offseason.

Payton Thorne, former Michigan State quarterback turned Auburn Tiger, is projected by a variety of outlets to be the Tigers' starting quarterback week one vs UMass despite not having taken a single rep in practice. Statistically, he's better than what the Tigers had coming back - Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner.

Following Finley's injury in week three vs Penn State, Ashford took over the starting role and never relinquished it - completing only 49.2% of his passes on the season but showing serious promise as a dual-threat - churning out over 700 rushing yards and solidifying himself as the best option in Auburn's quarterback room heading into 2023.

It can be easily argued that Ashford was not the problem on the offense last season - rather extremely poor decision making from the coaching staff and one of the worst offensive lines Auburn has seen this century - but it is clear that he's still very raw as a passer and would need a significant bump this offseason in order for him to claim the starting job over Thorne in fall camp.

Phil Steele believes that significant bump will happen.

Steele, a former ESPN insider and creator of Phil Steele's College Football Preview magazine, has Robby Ashford over Payton Thorne in his depth chart preview of the Tigers in his 2023 edition of his magazine.

Thorne finished an accomplished quarterback at Michigan State, setting single-season records for total yards, total touchdowns and passing touchdowns. He ranks fifth in career total touchdowns, fifth in career total yards, fourth in career passing touchdowns and third in single-season passing yards.

He's not a dazzling arm talent but was excellent attacking downfield in his two seasons with the Spartans. He's a great system fit for Freeze and Montgomery.

Hugh Freeze, known to develop quarterbacks well, should be able to elevate Ashford's passing game. If the Tigers decide to ride with him as starter, and Freeze is able to round him out as a true quarterback, he could be a serious problem in the SEC next season.

The athleticism is more than there. Polishing up his mechanics is the next step.

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