Hugh Freeze delivers on an early promise at Auburn football, but don't stop now | Toppmeyer
Hugh Freeze called his shot. He planned to raid the transfer portal, and he said as much on the day Auburn introduced him as its football new coach.
Freeze knows the kind of talent required to succeed at a high level in the SEC, and the cupboard he inherited at AU wasn’t stocked with enough of it.
The bright side: Immediate eligibility for transfers allows Freeze to transform the roster more quickly than he could when Ole Miss hired him more than a decade ago.
“I think we can turn it fairly fast with the new world we’re in,” Freeze said in November. “… Year 1, the portal will be a big priority.”
Thirteen transfers later, Freeze is delivering on his promise. And he can’t stop now. More needs require addressing, such as supplementing Auburn's quarterback options.
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Robby Ashford is a dangerous runner, and perhaps Freeze will polish his passing skills. But Freeze has won enough at this level that he should understand when an incumbent starter has completed fewer than half of his passes, you should seek more candidates.
Expect Auburn to be one of the more attractive destinations for a transfer quarterback when the portal reopens to new entries on April 15.
So far, it’s been an appealing destination for linemen. That should be no surprise if you saw how Penn State manhandled Auburn at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in a rout on the Plains last September.
Of all of former coach Bryan Harsin’s shortcomings in less than two seasons at AU, the most glaring was how weak he allowed Auburn’s roster to become. He ran off some of the talent he inherited and failed to supplement what he retained.
The result was a roster that lacked enough skill-position weapons or the physical strength in the trenches to match the better competition on Auburn’s typically fierce schedule.
Freeze’s transfer additions aren’t merely reinforcements. Many will head straight to the front line.
Auburn’s three transfer offensive linemen profile as starters, with Gunner Britton (Western Kentucky) and Dillon Wade (Tulsa) bookending the line and Avery Jones (East Carolina) in the middle.
Four defensive linemen from Power Five schools will beef up that position, while Austin Keys from Ole Miss becomes a fulcrum on defense.
Running back Brian Battie, who rushed for 1,186 yards last season at South Florida, ranks among Freeze’s top prizes.
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Even without a transfer quarterback, 247Sports rates Auburn’s transfer haul as the fourth-best nationally. That’s needed after recruiting had cratered under Harsin.
It’s also the new playbook for any first-year coach in need of a quick roster overhaul.
Brian Kelly inherited more talent at LSU than Freeze was graced with at Auburn, but Kelly also worked the portal better than anyone save Lincoln Riley of USC and Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss last season.
Kelly overhauled LSU’s secondary with transfers, and his quarterback plunder, Jayden Daniels, helped the Tigers win the SEC West in Kelly’s first season.
Coaches must know and embrace that this is the drill.
“There’s no patience for long-term plans, anymore,” Kelly said in November. “So, I think everybody goes in it with their eyes wide open that you’re looking to find immediate results. … The transfer portal, in particular, allows you to restock, in terms of bringing it more mature players.”
Kelly cautioned that coaches should “top off the tank" with transfers rather than pump a full 16 gallons worth of Transfer Unleaded from the Portal Stop Inc.
But some tanks require more than a few clicks of the gas pump, and Auburn’s is a prime example.
Anyone who watched Auburn struggle to beat San Jose State or lose five consecutive SEC games last season knows the Tigers were more than a player or two away from being a robust SEC program.
A quarterback and wide receiver should be among Auburn’s next wave of targets.
Impressively, Freeze upgraded and deepened his roster without enduring many outbound transfers. He can’t ease off.
Spring practice should show Freeze that Auburn’s tank isn’t full yet.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Hugh Freeze delivers on an early promise at Auburn football. Don't stop