Much has been made of the quarterback battle at Auburn between redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and pure freshman Bo Nix.
Gatewood fans will tell you that Joey’s arrival on campus a year ago came with a parade of praise that he was the second coming of Cam Newton, with his cannon arm and rugged athleticism.
They’ll point out that Gatewood has FBS experience, which Nix does not, and that Auburn has never started a season with a pure freshman running the show. Those are good reasons to think Gatewood will start against Oregon, but there are other reasons to think Nix will finish.
Gatewood was once heralded as the “new face of Auburn football!” but perhaps they meant “faceplant” because that is what Joey did in his spring workouts as a pure freshman. Those who had used the term “second coming” were soon accosted with echoes of “semi-ridiculous”.
This year, Nix burst onto the scene with so much poise, leadership, and results that it appears his effectiveness at this stage is one year ahead of where Gatewood was last year and at least equal to where Gatewood is now.
Gatewood’s inferred advantage in game experience seems annulled because he only appeared in one game and, although he ran well, he didn’t complete a single pass.
When comparing their high school experiences, the accolades fall in favor of Bo Nix. Yes, Gatewood was ranked 62nd by Rivals on signing day, but that last month before signing day was the only time he was ranked in the top 100 in his junior or senior years.
Meanwhile, Nix hit the top 100 before the start of his junior season and never left.
Heredity also falls on Nix’s side, and that is important.
I once asked a friend how he was able to coach winners year after year in college where roster changes are so frequent. His response? “I learned the hard way that you don’t win the Kentucky Derby with a team of mules. You recruit thoroughbreds, those with genetics. You bring them in, show them a little of what you want, then get out of the way, let them do it, and along the way, don’t think you’re very important to the process.”
Bo’s father is Pat Nix who was not only a four-year quarterback for Auburn, but he led the Tigers to an undefeated season in 1993. He was Bo’s head coach in high school and together, they won back-to-back Alabama state championships and lost only one game with Bo at the helm. All totaled, Bo produced 12,000 yards and 161 touchdowns in a record-breaking odyssey that led him to being named Alabama Gatorade player of the year in 2018.
Statistics are nice, but let’s see what opposing coaches have said:
Baldwin County, Alabama – coach Nate McDaniel:
“Bo Nix has as close to an NFL arm in high school as I’ve ever seen. We played them in 7-on-7 this summer, and I don’t think he’s thrown an incompletion yet. It’s not that we played bad. He’s that good. There are just not that many guys you see in high school that just wow you, but he is one. He’s unbelievable.”
Homewood, Alabama – coach Ben Berguson:
“Bo Nix is the best I’ve ever coached against. Everyone knows he can really spin it, but he’s also a coach on the field, a great leader. What’s really impressive is how quick he gets the ball out of his hands when you pressure him. It’s hard to get to him.”
Clay-Chalkville, Alabama – coach Drew Gilmore:
“He’s the best I’ve ever seen at the quarterback position. He can throw it as well as anyone, but he’s also so accurate. The other thing that sets him apart is his ability to escape pressure. He takes great drops and gets rid of the ball quickly. He’s incredibly smart, knows how to read defenses and how to attack coverages. He puts them in the right situations to make plays. Those are a few of the things that make him really special.”
We will see how the two develop through summer workouts, but for now, it’s my guess that Gatewood will be the starter because he’s taken snaps and his body is better conditioned for FBS play. But, I believe Nix will play, and once he’s in, there’s a good chance he won’t ever come out.