AUBURN, Alabama -- To his credit, Gus Malzahn is still trying to convince everybody that there is a quarterback competition taking place at Auburn this spring.
After Saturday’s scrimmage, Malzahn talked up the two freshmen -- Woody Barrett and Malik Willis -- who went live and showed off their athleticism. Sean White is still recovering from a broken arm, but he’s progressing well. Plus, Malzahn mentioned that new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey has been impressed with White’s retention ability.
That’s all fine, but does anybody actually believe that Jarrett Stidham won’t be the starting quarterback when the Tigers take the field against Georgia Southern in the season opener?
Stidham, the former Baylor transfer, was asked whether he could see himself as Auburn’s starting quarterback come September.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Stidham said in his first interview with the media since he arrived at Auburn. “That’s why I came here. I came here to get a great education from Auburn University and then to be the starting quarterback for the Auburn Tigers.”
Stidham isn’t assuming anything, though. He knows there is a competition going on, even if everybody outside the program believes he will be the guy. He knows he has to earn the trust and respect of his teammates. It’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s been on campus for only two-and-a-half months and Saturday was his first “game action” in more than a year.
At the end of the day, nothing is final until Malzahn and/or Lindsey make a decision.
“You take it day-by-day,” Stidham said. “Obviously, I’m still the new guy here. I’m trying to step up and be a leader as fast as possible. It comes with time, to gain the trust of the guys on the team. But I think doing the little things that will hopefully stand out, and like I said, you just have to take it day-by-day and compete. That’s just how it is.”
For the record, Stidham used the phrase “take it day-by-day” seven times during Saturday’s interview, which lasted roughly 11 minutes. He isn't looking ahead -- or at least, he wanted to make us think he isn't looking ahead.
Maybe it is unfair to White to assume that Stidham will be the starter. White has started 16 games the past two seasons, and when healthy -- which has been the main issue -- Auburn has played relatively well. He was the starting quarterback last fall, when the Tigers ripped off six straight wins in the middle of the season.
Yet here we are. It seems like a matter not of if but of when Malzahn will announce Stidham as the team’s starter. How long will he wait?
Malzahn hinted that Stidham might have a slight advantage because he’s getting more reps with the first-team offense than White, but he quickly backtracked and told the reporters to “not read anything into that.”
Meanwhile, Stidham continues to say and do all the right things.
How’s your relationship with White and the other quarterbacks?
Stidham: “It’s been awesome. Sean, he’s a great guy. Woody, Malik, Devin [Adams] -- they’re all great guys. We joke around a little bit with each other. We encourage each other. We compete against each other. And I think it makes the room a lot better.”
How difficult has it been to get acclimated while competing for a job?
Stidham: “There are difficulties with it, but I’m just trying to stay true to my personality. I just try to be a people person, be a light in the room. Whether we’re in meetings or in the weight room or working out on the field, whatever it is, I just try to be who I am and not be someone I’m not or who someone wants me to be. I think it just comes with time.”
The spring game at Auburn is less than two weeks away. Even if Stidham were to put up crazy numbers, don’t expect Malzahn to make a decision on the starting quarterback until later in the offseason or maybe even fall camp. He learned his lesson two years ago with Jeremy Johnson.
Still, it’s pretty easy to see who the front-runner is at this point.