Chris Low, ESPN Senior WriterAug 17, 2023, 02:09 PM ET
- College football reporter
- Joined ESPN.com in 2007
- Graduate of the University of Tennessee
Thorne was a two-year starter for the Spartans, and Freeze said that his leadership and efficiency throwing the ball were big factors in his winning the job at Auburn after arriving on campus in June.
“The reason that Payton is getting the nod is the leadership ability and the understanding of the offense,” Freeze said. “He’s been in some really good battles. He’s been more efficient in the decision-making to this point.”
Ashford, who transferred from Oregon after the 2021 season, was Auburn’s starter for most of last season and played in all 12 games. He is a dynamic runner who finished with 710 yards and seven touchdowns rushing but passed for just seven touchdowns and threw seven interceptions. He will continue to compete for playing time and could regain the starting job at some point.
Auburn finished 119th nationally in passing offense last season (172.7 YPG), and improving the passing game was a priority for Freeze in his first season as the Tigers’ coach.
Thorne, entering his fifth season of college football, had his best season with Michigan State in 2021 when he passed for 3,240 yards and 27 touchdowns while helping lead the Spartans to 11 wins in Mel Tucker’s first year as coach. Thorne entered his name into the transfer portal following spring practice earlier this year. He had been competing for the Michigan State starting job with sophomore Noah Kim.
Auburn has shuffled through quarterbacks the past few years. Bo Nix, now a Heisman Trophy candidate at Oregon, was Auburn’s starter from 2019 to 2021, but he was briefly benched in 2021 and then returned as the starter before having his season cut short by an ankle injury and then leaving to join the Ducks. TJ Finley, who began his career at LSU, was Auburn’s starter to open the 2022 season before giving way to Ashford. Finley has since transferred to Texas State.