BY WIL CREWS
Michigan State transfer quarterback Peyton Thorne announced Friday, May 5, his intentions to play for the Auburn Tigers in 2023.
The former Spartan arrived on The Plains days ago and is the public frontrunner to win the starting job.
“Man, he didn’t wait,” said head coach Hugh Freeze. “He’s already in there watching film on his own and learning stuff. He’s anxious to get with the team and start working out.”
Thorne’s experience as a two-year starter at Michigan State will add another dynamic of competition to a thin Auburn quarterback room. With the outgoing transfer of T.J. Finley, Auburn’s quarterback room prior to the addition of Thorne was comprised of redshirt sophomore Robby Ashford and sophomore Holden Geriner. The two have combined for just seven career passing touchdowns.
Thorne has 49 career passing touchdowns — ranking fourth in MSU history — in 26 career starts at Michigan State. He compiled a 16-10 record over two seasons as the starter, with 2021 undoubtedly serving as his “breakout” year.
That season, Michigan State was led by a lethal one-two punch of passing and rushing. Eventual second-round pick, 2021 Doak Walker Award winner, Walter Camp National Player of the Year and consensus First Team All-American Kenneth Walker provided the kind of threat to the front seven of defenses that would help any quarterback find more room to throw in the secondary.
Additionally, MSU boasted a pass-catching corps that rivaled the best in the nation. Thusly, Thorne finished 2021 with 27 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions and 3,240 passing yards —the third most in a single season in MSU history — while completing 60.4% of his passes. His 2022 season left much to be desired, as the Spartans followed up their 11-2 record in 2021 with a 5-7 record last year. Thorne finished 2022 with a 62.5% completion percentage, posting 19 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 2,679 passing yards.
“I think that this football team at Auburn right now missed some leadership, particularly on the offensive side,” Freeze said. “To get that in the room, I think only elevates everybody. The more good leaders you put around them, the more you get them to model that. I feel like he is a mature leader that knows how to prepare. He obviously has played Power Five football in a really good conference.
“… I think that just elevates that room. And he is tough. He stood in there and got beat up pretty good last year. He took it and kept competing.”
In Thorne, Freeze and company will be hoping they get a ready-made player who more closely resembles the redshirt senior’s 2021 season rather than 2022. The template for success with Thorne stems directly from Michigan State’s 2021 season. Encouragingly, the situation at Auburn heading into 2023 translates well to that of the Spartans two seasons ago.
Junior Auburn running back Jarquez Hunter is poised to breakout this season after posting 593 yards and three touchdowns his freshman year, and 668 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Hunter spent both of his first two years on The Plains playing second fiddle to third-round 2023 NFL draft pick Tank Bigsby. If the Tigers want to get the best out of Thorne, it starts with an effective rushing attack from Hunter, the rest of the running back room and the revamped Auburn offensive line.
Overall, Auburn has signed 18 transfer portal players this offseason, many of whom have been aimed at bolstering the pass-catching options for the Tigers. This is good news for Thorne, or Ashford and Geriner — whoever wins the starting job. While it’s yet to be seen if Freeze has amalgamated a group of skill position players to rival what MSU had in 2021, on paper, the Tigers’ prospects have significantly improved from last season. So far, the Tigers are bringing in (by way of transfer) 70 catches, 1,272 yards and 17 touchdowns of production from pass catchers last season. And that excludes the potential of Ohio State transfer and former ESPN top-100 recruit Caleb Burton, who didn’t see the field for the Buckeyes in 2022.
Boasting the No. 3-ranked transfer class nationally, it’s clear the talent on Auburn’s roster has improved. Thorne might raise the ceiling even further. Worst case scenario, Thorne’s presence should elevate the performance of Ashford and/or Geriner, providing Freeze with a clear option as to who is the Tigers’ best quarterback in 2023.