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The quarterback situation, post-Rollison

Hi, I'm Clint Moseley. You should perhaps learn to recognize me.

And so Tyrik Rollison has moved on, and we all remind ourselves to quit salivating over high school players who may or may not ever see the field at Auburn*.

Except for the kids in this 2010 class Chizik and Co. just signed, of course. Those guys are going to kick all kind of ass.

But getting away from the impact of Rollison’s decision on our future recruit-drooling, it’s time to look at its impact on the Auburn quarterback position. Rollison probably wasn’t going to make a major move in this year’s derby, but his departure definitely shuffles things around going forward. So taking it year-by-year:

2010: Cam Newton was the consensus favorite before Rollison’s decision and obviously he’s even more the consensus favorite now. Most Auburn fans saw Neil Caudle as the leading non-Newton option–for good reason–after he won the backup job and looked competent while Rollison redshirted and got himself suspended for the Outback Bowl. But I don’t think there’s much doubt that Rollison was the only entrant in the Auburn QB battle who could begin to match Newton’s athleticism. Before, Newton had to worry about throwing well enough to keep pace with Caudle and fitting into the running game well enough to hold off Rollison. Now? If Malzahn wants an out-and-out running threat at QB, Newton’s the only choice. (Caudle’s better off here than the last couple of pocket-passer Auburn starters, as he showed against Ball St., but no way he was keeping up with Rollison or Newton in that department.)

So the path for Newton looks clearer than ever. But unlike a lot of you out there, I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, and I don’t think the entire season hinges on Newton’s ability to complete the necessary passes. Because last season we saw that Malzahn’s offense can work just fine without a major running threat under behind center, as long as the QB in question has the arm to make the throws and understands the system well enough to make the calls he’s got to make. If Chris Todd and Chris Todd’s trick shoulder could manage that in a year, I have zero doubt Neil Caudle could over the course of two.

I’ll agree that for Auburn’s offense to hit its maximum scoreboard-scorching potential, yes, Newton will have to prove he’s more than just–to borrow Terrell Zachery’s Twitter term–a beast. He’s also got be accurate, be smart, be safe. If he can be all those things, he’ll still be 6-6 and able to flatten linebackers and blow past safeties, and he’ll be the starting quarterback. But if he can’t, Neil Caudle can, and that’ll be just fine, too.

2011: With Caudle having finally exhausted his eligibility, there’s really only two scenarios in which Newton isn’t the starter come the 2011 opener:

1. He’s injured

2. He’s injured or ineffective during the 2010 season, Barrett Trotter or Clint Moseley usurp Caudle to earn playing time, and subsequently blow the hell up

You can’t rule either of those two scenarios out, but neither seems to be the likely outcome, either. With a year of acclimation already under his belt and his immense physical gifts, the smart money has to be on Newton. But one of Moseley or Trotter will ascend to the backup’s role for the first time, and after that …

2012: … is where Rollison’s departure really makes things interesting. His recruiting hype and snug fit for the spread made him the early-early favorite as soon as Newton departed, but now the options are likely as follows:

— Trotter as a largely unproven senior

— Moseley as a largely unproven junior

— Quarterback recruit X as a redshirt freshman

I wouldn’t dismiss that third option out of hand. Auburn’s already gotten the attention of three of the highest-profile quarterbacks in the class of 2011–Jeff Driskel, Kiehl Frazier, and C.J. Uzomah–and it’s certainly possible that any of the three might be ready to take over after a year of preparation.

But at the same time, I’ve got too much respect for Trotter’s and–especially– Moseley’s potential to doom them to an entire career of second-stringerdom. Both have drawn raves for their practice output and work ethic–Trotter more from the Tubby staff who almost burned his redshirt, Moseley maybe a shade more from Malzahn after his perch at the head of the scout team–and both will have a golden opportunity to cement themselves as the starter heading into this season. It would be a hell of an achievement for either, given that Auburn was the only SEC school to offer either–and the waaaaaaay too early bet here is that whichever QB wins the right to back up Newton in ’11 is your starter come 2012.

I won’t project any further than that–projecting 2012 is, honestly, way more fun than it is useful already–but that this scenario is in play should tell you that spring camp isn’t just about Newton vs. Caudle. It’s about Trotter and Moseley too, about the two of them setting up a pecking order for the years to come, about showing Auburn’s coaches that a shot will be deserved, maybe sooner rather than later.

Auburn’s quarterbacks were the No. 1 story heading into spring 2008 after the departure of Cox, they were again last year after the Burns/Todd waffling, and whaddya know, they are again this year. But when there’s this much going on and this much to be decided, there’s no position battle more interesting or important for Auburn’s football program, is there?

*Actually, the lesson here is probably just to pay more attention to red flags like “We stole him from Kansas St. and Baylor” and “Clearly enjoys being a Facebook celebrity a little more than is best for him.” I of course wish Rollis0n the best at Sam Houston and don’t regret being so bullish on his chances last summer–if he’d kept to the straight and narrow, I still think he’s got the physical gifts to have been something special in Malzahn’s offense–but rest assured I’m looking at the next kid with glittering ratings and a total lack of commensurate offers with a lot more skepticism.

That’s all for today, by the way. Enjoy your weekend. Go U.S.A!

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