Michigan State transfer Payton Thorne wins Auburn starting QB job

Payton Thorne has won the Auburn starting quarterback job, coach Hugh Freeze announced on Thursday.

Thorne, a transfer from Michigan State, beat out Robby Ashford and will start for the Tigers in their Sept. 2 opener against UMass.

Thorne was a two-year starter for the Spartans, and Freeze said that his leadership and efficiency throwing the ball were big factors in his winning the job at Auburn after arriving on campus in June.

"The reason Payton is getting the nod is the leadership ability and understanding of the offense, and he's been in some really good battles and just seems like he was more efficient in decision-making to this point, not that the others were terrible by any means," Freeze said. "It was not a slam dunk. I hope everyone will handle it right."

From the time Thorne arrived on campus, Freeze said he's immersed himself into every aspect of the offense.

"The guy's in here all the time. I can't get rid of him," Freeze said. "He wants to know all the ins and outs about everything ... and he's a pro at it, knowing how to prepare, and that gives you a comfort level where you feel like he has the right mindset and understanding of the game plan."

Freeze said that Thorne would get all the repetitions with the starting unit heading into the opener and that Ashford would get most of the work with the second unit. He said that redshirt freshman Holden Geriner would also get some reps with the second team.

"Holden is the most natural passer out of all of them, truthfully," Freeze said.

Freeze said that Ashford will "always have a package [in the offense] if he handles this the right way" and added that Ashford "might be the most freakish athlete I've ever had at quarterback."

Ashford, who transferred from Oregon after the 2021 season, was Auburn's starter for most of last season and played in all 12 games. He is a dynamic runner who finished with 710 yards and seven touchdowns rushing but passed for just seven touchdowns and threw seven interceptions. He will continue to compete for playing time and could regain the starting job at some point.

Auburn finished 119th nationally in passing offense last season (172.7 YPG), and improving the passing game was a priority for Freeze in his first season as the Tigers' coach.

Thorne, entering his fifth season of college football, had his best season with Michigan State in 2021 when he passed for 3,240 yards and 27 touchdowns while helping lead the Spartans to 11 wins in Mel Tucker's first year as coach. Thorne entered his name into the transfer portal following spring practice earlier this year. He had been competing for the Michigan State starting job with sophomore Noah Kim.

Auburn has shuffled through quarterbacks the past few years. Bo Nix, now a Heisman Trophy candidate at Oregon, was Auburn's starter from 2019 to 2021, but he was briefly benched in 2021 and then returned as the starter before having his season cut short by an ankle injury and then leaving to join the Ducks. TJ Finley, who began his career at LSU, was Auburn's starter to open the 2022 season before giving way to Ashford. Finley has since transferred to Texas State.