Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why Auburn Needs/Wants Jeremy Johnson to Succeed

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I had a bit of revelation a few weeks ago as I was writing another Auburn Realist article that no one read. While writing  Where Does Auburn Look to Replace Offensive Production in 2015 , I was putting together some stats regarding JUCO transfer QBs at Auburn and I came up with some really interesting findings. Here is what I said:

"Auburn's success in the last decade has been on the shoulders of JUCO transfers. Auburn has failed to be able to recruit a player from HS and turn him into a winner. Since 2009 Auburn has won the vast majority of its games by Todd/Newton/Marshall. Only Brandon Cox can boast being a winning recruit. Auburn has featured Burns/Trotter/Moseley/Frazier as players who were whiffs at the QB position. JUCO transfers are 42-14 while recruits are 15-18. Coincidentally, Johnson is responsible for 3 of those 15 wins. Yikes. Just think about that for a minute.

You can see why Auburn is so excited about Johnson and it isn't all about his ability. Auburn has been heavily criticized for using "mercs" to win. Auburn faithful are ready to win with a player that doesn't have baggage, real or imaginary. The upside to Johnson is limitless and it wouldn't be foolish to name him as a Heisman darkhorse for 2015. However, his lack of receivers around him will hamper those abilities. Of the teams replacing QBs in the SEC, Auburn can boast of being the most comfortable. They already have a guy who has started games and looked flawless."

That got me thinking about all the different Auburn stars at other positions from the last few years. 

First off, it is worth talking about the recruiting. Since the day that Saban stepped foot in Tuscaloosa, the recruiting wars have become a championship of its own. It's no secret that Alabama has owned the country in recruiting. But along the way, Jay Jacobs made clutch hires that thrust Auburn into the modern era of recruiting. Since 2009, Auburn has consistently landed some of the top classes in the country. While Auburn has 2 National Championship appearances and 1 National Championship. Some of the biggest game changers that brought Auburn to these are JUCO guys. The common belief is that Cam Newton won the 2010 National Championship. Without Nick Marshall, it is very doubtful that Auburn would have made its second National Championship appearance in January 2014. Outside of these players, those highly regarded classes have produced few gamechangers and lots of busts. While both state schools have recruited at a very high level, one is consistently a 10 win team, never losing more than 3 games in a season. It continues to pump out NFL players. The other rides a roller coaster and has never had back-to-back 10 win seasons. It's 2 premier seasons were buoyed by JUCO QBs. 

 Now, I understand that every SEC program benefits from bringing JUCO stars on board, but none more so than our beloved Tigers who have guys like Rudy Johnson, Cam Newton, and Nick Fairley.  The stars on the 2014 team are almost ENTIRELY JUCO guys: Marshall, Duke Williams, and Cameron Artis-Payne. 

Auburn is a place that emphasizes "Class" over "Winning." It likes to boast about how its players stay out of trouble and are class-acts.  It tries to polarize itself from the other University across the state. And yet from a spectators point of view, it doesn't quite appear that way. While many of the JUCO guys had to take their path due to grades, by and large, most of them are here because they were dismissed from other teams over discipline issues. Case in point, the two best QBs to walk the Plains in a generation were both dismissed from other SEC schools. Both of those stories are well known and I won't take your time in going over them. 

While I am all for second chances, I have offer to play the Devil's Advocate. Auburn is becoming a haven for players who can't make it elsewhere. And I don't like it. It gives the feeling that this team is filled with mercenaries, case in point, Cam Newton and the Bag Man. I don't really care what other fans say of my University. But when you actually start thinking that they may be right....maybe it really is a problem. 

Just like I wrote above, the winningest QBs since Brandon Cox are all JUCO guys. If you go by production, it ISN'T EVEN CLOSE. Brandon Cox is Auburn's winningest QB and he had 38 TDs and 28 INTs. In comparison, Cam Newton...by himself...had 30 passing TDs and 7 INTs in one year. 

Despite stellar recruiting, Auburn has not been able to turn a QB recruit into a winner. Kodi Burns? Nope. 2 TD passes and 7 INTs in 2008. 5 Star Kiehl Frazier....who many thought would be the face of Auburn football for 3 years? 2 TDs and 10 INTs. Moseley? Wallace? The closest that Auburn came to a winning QB was Barrett Trotter with 11TDs and 6 INTs. 

I can't speak for every Auburn fan, but I am an average one so I suspect many feel as I do. And here is what I feel:  Auburn needs Jeremy Johnson to not only succeed, but to excel. 

Auburn is ready to win without the asterisk attached, even if it is metaphorical. With all of the hype over recruiting, Auburn fans are ready to see a guy who could have gone ANYWHERE but chose to come to Auburn be a big time winner. Don't misunderstand. I am proud to say that Cam Newton is from Auburn, and he did us all a solid by coming back to school and being an outspoken lover of his University. I am amazed and proud of the job Marshall has done. He has been Unstoppable on the field, though he has had his struggles off it. But, I am ready to see a guy come in without the baggage. Without the history. I am ready to see a multi-year starter. And if I want to see it, I know there are a TON of Auburn fans thinking the same thing. 

Let's face it. The QB is the face of the Universities athletic department. I want a man that portrays each and every value of my school, not one that I subconsciously wonder who he really is and what might happen. I don't want one that I wake up each day and wonder if he will be popped for marijuana again. I don't want one that "landed here."  I want to see one of these vaunted recruits that these schools war over actually pan out. I know its silly to compare a mythical "win" in recruiting, but it has become an embarrassment. Each and every year when Auburn finishes in the Top 10, I ask myself which of these guys will actually pan out. Across the state, the field is littered with the same caliber players...who pan out. 

Jeremy Johnson has the opportunity to be a player that Auburn hasn't had in a generation. He has the potential to be the first QB in my generation to be recruited by Auburn, dominate on the field while being a model citizen. It's a very real possibility. All signs point to that happening. Jeremy Johnson has all of the physical tools needed to be a premier passer. He won't be the shifty runner that Marshall was, nor the freight train that Cam became. But, he is something that neither were while at Auburn: a polished pocket passer. More importantly, he represents everything that the Auburn faithful want to see: he comes with no baggage, either assumed or otherwise.