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In the Crossfire: Russell Wilson, Auburn Quarterback?

Russell Wilson was in Auburn. Russell Wilson wasn't in Auburn. Russell Wilson doesn't exist. Russell Wilson is Auburn's new head coach.

It’s been an interesting last few days on the Plains.  Auburn picked up a nice commitment for next year’s recruiting class in DB Joshua Holsey as well as bringing four-star running back Mike Blakely back home after his brief and unhappy fling with Florida.  A number of this year’s recruits are already on campus and enrolled in classes.  And of course it’s Big Cat Weekend.

For all that real, solid news, however, much of the buzz over the past few days has centered on former North Carolina State quarterback and the possibility of his enrollment at Auburn.

Your intrepid Wishbone columnists take opposite sides on this issue, and decided this week to engage in a Crossfire-style debate over the good and the bad of the possible addition of Wilson to the Tigers’ roster.

John starts things off with a little background information and then presents his side of the argument.  Van follows with his rebuttal.

John makes his case:

Former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson is supposedly considering coming to Auburn to play football for one year.  He qualifies under the new NCAA rule allowing student-athletes who have earned their degree to attend another school for graduate school and play there if they have eligibility remaining.  Under this rule, Wilson is eligible to play in 2011 at any school he enrolls in.   He also plays minor league baseball in the Colorado Rockies organization.

Here is his baseball profile.

The Rockies have stated that if he leaves their minor league team early (before the end of the minor league season) he would have to pay back a significant part of his $250,000 signing bonus.

Here are the reasons for my pro-Russell Wilson stance:

Wilson could help Auburn win an extra game or two this fall without having any other negative impact. He is a talented, experienced quarterback.  His numbers are impressive:  Last year he threw for 3,653 yards with 28 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He also rushed for 435 yards and 9 touchdowns.

To compare Wilson to other ACC quarterbacks, FSU’s Christian Ponder threw for 2044 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 8 interceptions, and ACC Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech threw for 2,743 yards with 24 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

Some highlights:

Auburn has two good players already on the roster at quarterback in Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley, but neither is proven.  Both have worked hard to earn the starting job since the season ended.  What if both are good but neither is great? What if one gets hurt?  Can either or both of those young men handle it on the road in Baton Rouge and Athens?  I think they can, but I know Wilson can.

Some have compared Wilson to Jeremiah Masoli and that, I think, is unfair.  Have both taken advantage of the same rule to change schools for one last season?  Yes.  But Masoli was kicked off his college team—Oregon—and was barely accepted by Ole Miss.  Wilson is a good kid.  He played baseball in the offseason and NC State coach Tom O’Brien wanted him at spring practice and summer workouts.  This is the big issue—will Wilson be able to show up early enough to work out with Auburn’s players and learn the offense?

If Auburn coaches require Wilson to give up baseball and be on campus by a certain date and Wilson complies, then he should be allowed to compete for the starting job.  He may do all that and then get beaten out by Mosley or Trotter or both.

Some have expressed concern that Auburn should not encourage players who will only be on campus one year.  And it’s a fair concern.  We would rather have players who are dedicated Auburn men, on campus for all four (or five) years.  But if you recruit a player who wins the Heisman and leaves early to be the first pick in the draft you create a void in your quarterback roster where you thought a player would be.

So I say give Wilson a shot.

Van rebuts:

Watching the video highlights, I have to admit that the thought of a not-particularly-tall, scrambling quarterback with a good arm and the number 16 on his jersey does make me wax all nostalgic for the days of the great Dameyune Craig.

But we don’t know yet if Russell Wilson remotely measures up to a Dameyune Craig—or a Cam Newton—in the ways that really matter, beyond just seeing him run and throw the ball on the field.  We just don’t know.  In fact, we don’t know a lot of things about one Mr. Wilson.

He may or may not have been in Auburn a few days ago, meeting with coaches.  Rumors had him there, but then we were told that Auburn’s coaches weren’t even in Auburn on that day—they were all out of town, recruiting.  Except that then we heard that maybe Gus Malzahn was in Auburn that day, and he was meeting with Wilson.  Or else maybe Gus was out of town, but Wilson met with him somewhere else, such as at a restaurant or a hotel or behind the fence on the grassy knoll.  Or something.  Who really knows?

Well, Wilson knows.  And the Auburn coaches (presumably) know.  Or, at least, the one(s) who actually did meet with him.  Assuming such a meeting took place.  Which we’re not assuming.  But—you get the idea.

So… the big question here (dare I say, the $180,000 question?  We’re all Auburn people here.  If we can’t laugh at it ourselves…) is, do we really want this guy on the team?  Do we want him entered into the equation at quarterback at all?

Is he being considered for the right reasons—ie, the coaches have evaluated him and decided that he would make a positive contribution to the team, lifting us above the maximum possible win total we would achieve without him while not disrupting the existing chemistry of the club?  Or is he being considered simply because, hey, we brought in a transfer quarterback last year and hey, he sure seemed to work out pretty well, huh?

If it’s the former, then I am both encouraged and saddened.  I’m encouraged in that our program has elevated itself to the level that it can consistently attract players of that caliber, and our coaches are widely recognized as the kind any good or great player would want to put his talents and career in the hands of.  That’s a good thing.  But I’m saddened in that we’ve got several quarterbacks on the roster, who have done the work and put in the effort and patiently awaited their turn, only to potentially see another transfer player come in at the last moment and take their job away.  Again.

I know full well how odd it sounds to be saying that when the player I’m clearly referring to is Cam Newton, catalyst of our national championship run and unquestionably one of the handful of greatest players ever to wear an Auburn jersey.  But I’m not speaking here in specifics—I’m speaking on principle; on the idea of snatching the starting job away from the guys who committed to the university and the program and have worked for so long to earn their spot.  It’s just somehow disheartening.

Plus, in 2010 we knew the quarterbacks on the roster either lacked in talent or in experience to get us to where we wanted to get to— “From Good to Great.”  This year, we have to think that at least Barrett Trotter is ready.  Ready, at least, to produce a Chris-Todd-in-2009-esque solid year of competent play.

But—is “Chris Todd competent play” what Auburn is about now, in this post-National Championship era?

And, that being said, if I thought Wilson could come in and lead us to Atlanta and/or a BCS bowl game the way Cam did—and if I knew for a fact that none of the QBs on the current roster could do that—would I pull the trigger on the deal to bring him aboard?

Dude, I would chuck Barrett over the side so fast your head would swim.

(Chuck Barrett?  What is this—the Gong Show?  Barrett… Barriss… never mind.)

The thing is, I’m not convinced that Wilson could do that.  His numbers were definitely solid at NC State, but they weren’t exactly Cam-like.  He doesn’t run over people like Cam does.  He’s not even particularly tall, even for a “running QB,” which he really isn’t.

What might he be capable of accomplishing as essentially a fifth-year senior, operating out of Gus Malzahn’s offense, with the weapons he will have around him to dish the ball to and to draw attention away from him?  Did he have the likes of a Mike Dyer or Onterrio McCalebb or Emory Blake at NC State?

Can he learn Gus’s offense that quickly?  He would only have a few practices to get it down.  Then again, Cam did pretty well—though he signed with Auburn on December 31, while it’s late May now; and Chris Todd all-but-mastered it in what seemed like two weeks.

I suppose, in the final analysis, I simply need to know more about the guy.

But, honestly—it doesn’t matter what I know or don’t know about him, or what John knows or doesn’t know.  What matters is what Gus Malzahn and Curtis Luper and Trooper Taylor and Gene Chizik know about him, and how they view his skills and how they judge his character.  And I’ll tell you right now—I trust those guys and their judgment, in both of those areas, implicitly.

I know they won’t be bringing Wilson to the Plains unless they plan on starting him; I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind abandoning a pro career and giving back a couple hundred thousand bucks of signing bonus for the privilege of sitting on the bench behind Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley for their final year.

So—what do you say, Gus?  Gene?  Is this guy worth a try or not?

In Gus (and Gene and co.) we trust.

(Okay, well, that was unexpected.  I started off my part of this column being all but dead-set against Wilson being on the team.  By the time I was done, either John or I had talked myself into almost becoming a Wilson fan.  Hey—if he can win me over in less than an hour, who knows what effect he could have on the team?  Honestly, nobody knows right now.  Let’s see what the coaches decide.)

(That’s assuming, of course, that any of this has been legit from the beginning.  It may well be that Wilson was never on campus and isn’t considering Auburn at all—and/or that our coaches are not interested in him.  Mysteries, mysteries…!)

Van Allen Plexico managed to attend Auburn (and score student football tickets) for some portion of every year between 1986 and 1996. He realizes that’s probably not something one should brag about, but hey. He teaches college near St Louis (because ten years as a student was somehow just not enough time to spend at school) and writes and edits for a variety of publishers. Find links to his various projects at www.plexico.net.

John Ringer graduated from Auburn in 1991 (which may be the greatest time ever to be an Auburn student – SEC titles in 1987, 88 and 89 and the 1989 Iron Bowl). His family has had season tickets every year since well before he was born and he grew up wandering around Jordan-Hare on game days. He currently lives in Richmond, Virginia where he spends way too much time reading about college football on the internet and teaching his children to love Auburn football.

Previous Wishbone columns can be found here.

Order Season of Our Dreams — every “Wishbone” column from the 2010 preseason through the fabled Date in the Desert, plus a stadium full of extras.

Keep Reading:

* Gene Chizik’s cow
* The Secret History of Pat Dye Field
* Erin Andrews at Toomer’s Corner
* In the time of “Got 13″ she was a Tiger
* Was Walt Disney an Auburn fan?

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