HEADLINE

Great expectations await Auburn QB Stidham

Sports Xchange

July 13, 2017 at 2:07 pm.

According to one set of published Heisman Trophy odds this week, the leading candidate from the SEC is a guy who has never taken a snap in the conference.

It’s not Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, or any number of talented SEC running backs such as LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Nick Chubb or the Crimson Tide’s Bo Scarbrough. The top Heisman candidate, at 15-to-1 odds, is Auburn sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham.

Hey, no pressure, kid.

The former Baylor quarterback is expected to immediately transform an Auburn offense and make the Tigers a legitimate threat to Alabama in the SEC West. Auburn is showing up as top-10 timber in some preseason publications.

“Jarrett Stidham is a very talented young man,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said at SEC Media Days on Thursday in Hoover, Ala. “I think that’s a common sense deal.”

Since going 12-2 and winning the SEC in 2013 — losing to Florida State in the BCS title game — the Tigers have gone a pedestrian 23-16, usually struggling in the passing game. Auburn failed to score 20 points in any of its five losses last season.

When healthy, junior quarterback Sean White has done some good things, so Malzahn hasn’t yet anointed a No. 1 quarterback. But Stidham-as-savior is Auburn’s theme heading into camp.

The former five-star recruit dazzled in a mop-up role and as a late-season injury replacement at Baylor in 2015, completing 75 of 109 passes for 1,265 yards, with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.

“I’ve got a lot of history with Stidham,” Malzahn said. “We actually recruited him in high school. He’s a good athlete. He’s a lot better athlete than people think. He’s got a 35-, 36-inch vertical. He runs a 4.6.

“In our league, you have to escape. Things are going to break down. The defensive lines are too good. You have to have a quarterback that can escape pressure, keep his eyes down the field, know when to throw it, know when to run it, and protect the football and make good decisions.”

Stidham, who did not play at a junior college last fall, impressed in the spring in new coordinator Chip Lindsey’s offense.

“Jarrett Stidham is competitive,” safety Tray Matthews told the SEC Network. “One word: competitive.”

Auburn has one of the best running back tandems in the country in powerful Kamryn Pettway and all-purpose Kerryon Johnson. The Tigers also return eight defensive starters from a unit that was seventh nationally in points allowed (17.1 per game) and have Daniel Carlson, a preseason All-American kicker.

Just add Stidham.

“He’s really done a good job trying to win over his teammates,” Malzahn said. “We’re going to throw it. We’re going to throw it quite a bit more.”

In terms of being “hungry” and having a “chip on their shoulder,” Malzahn said this team — which gets Alabama at home to end the regular season — is beginning to remind him of something good.

“The last time I felt this way was 2013,” he said.

NOTES

–The SEC has ample exciting sophomore quarterbacks, including Hurts, Stidham, Ole Miss’ Shea Patterson and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley. Bentley started the final seven games of last season after coach Will Muschamp pulled him out of his freshman redshirt.

Bentley completed 65.8 percent of his passes, with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He led South Carolina to a 4-3 record that included an overtime bowl loss to South Florida in which he passed for 390 yards.

The Bentley-created optimism has helped recruiting, Muschamp said.

“Guys want to understand that having a guy at that position that can excel, you’re going to win games,” he said. “Which we are at South Carolina. No doubt.”

–Former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, who was fired after the 2011 season, filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging defamation by school officials and current coach Hugh Freeze for a “smear campaign” that tried to blame him for an ongoing NCAA investigation.

“I would love to share my opinion on it,” Freeze said Thursday about the lawsuit, “but unfortunately it’s a legal case and I just can’t comment.”

–Ole Miss can’t play in the postseason due to a self-imposed bowl ban because of the NCAA investigation.

“I think this has the potential to set up our staff to have our greatest hour,” Freeze said. “We can model for a lot of people what it can look like for people that genuinely care for one another and look at what we do have as a blessing, and then set an example of how you go through difficult times.”

–Auburn’s game at defending national champion Clemson on Sept. 9 is one of the top early nonconference games of the season. Clemson won 19-13 at Auburn to open last season.

“It will be a good measuring stick of where we’re at,” Malzahn said. “We’re still sick about the loss at home last year.”