White started the last time Auburn played, Dec. 30, 2015, in the Birmingham Bowl, and after competing against the likes of Jeremy Johnson and John Franklin III for the past seven months, he will be the one who trots back out with the first-team offense when the Tigers host Clemson a week from Saturday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
So why did Auburn choose White to be the starting quarterback?
The first thing is he has SEC experience. Nobody expected White to play last year. Not when Johnson was being tabbed as a Heisman Trophy candidate before the season. But after a Week 3 loss to LSU, Malzahn benched the struggling Johnson in favor of White, a redshirt freshman at the time who had yet to take a snap for Auburn.
The next five games were a mixed bag. White took better care of the football. He completed almost 60 percent of his passes. But the offense sputtered at times because of a lack of consistency and also a lack of explosive plays.
In his four SEC starts, Auburn went 1-3. He threw for 955 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in those games. Again, he wasn’t great, but he wasn’t terrible either.
Coming into this year, White is more prepared. Speaking to reporters Thursday, he says it’s a “night and day difference” from last year to this year. He was thrust into the starting role last year on an Auburn team that was going in the wrong direction. This year, from spring practice to the offseason to fall camp, he’s competed as though he would be the starter in Week 1.
And because of that, he’s more comfortable with the offense, more comfortable with his receivers, and he’s more comfortable as a leader for the rest of the team.
White is also more mobile than people give him credit for. No, he’s not as fast as Franklin. He’s probably not even as fast as Johnson. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still make plays with his feet.
Malzahn said Thursday that his new starting quarterback is “a 4.6 guy” who has the ability to tuck it and run. We didn’t see as much of that last year because of a knee injury White suffered in the Arkansas game that took away some of his mobility. But now that he’s back to 100 percent, he’ll look to run more often.
The offense will be still be tailored around White, though, which means it might look a little different than it did when Nick Marshall was the quarterback.
More than anything, White is a competitor. When he injured his knee against Arkansas, he stuck it out and nearly led Auburn to victory in what turned out to be a gut-wrenching four-overtime defeat. He even came back and played the next week against Ole Miss.
In high school, he went from relative unknown to one of the nation’s top quarterback prospects because of hard work. He simply never settled for second-best. As a senior, he won the Elite 11 competition and earned MVP honors at the Under Armour All-America Game.
Simply put, White was the right choice.
Fans might have wanted to see Franklin win the job. He’s more athletic. He's more exciting. And he represented a change from the disaster that took place in 2015. But this is White’s team.
White has earned the support of his teammates. He’s taken control of the locker room. And that’s what the coaching staff was looking for all along. Who does the rest of the team want as the starting quarterback?
There will still be packages for Franklin and opportunities for him to play, but it’s White who gives Auburn the best chance to win in 2016.