History on Auburn's side with Bo Nix, the Power Five's latest true freshman starting QB
There's no question Nix will be under pressure; the good news the hit rate has been high recently
Who is Bo Nix? Sure, we know the new quarterback for No. 16 Auburn is a Tigers legacy, starting the season Saturday against No. 11 Oregon as a true freshman. But that designation begs a more important question.
He could also become Robert Bolden. That would be the former Penn State QB who transferred twice, played at three schools and appeared in 26 career games.
CBS Sports asked SportsSource Analytics to track the last 20 true freshman quarterbacks to start a season for a Power Five program. Here's what we found:
- All 20 have come since 2009. Since then, majority of those who have exhausted their eligibility (8 of 14, .571) have achieved highly in some form or another.
- Of those eight, four were drafted in the top two rounds. Baker Mayfield (Texas Tech, 2013) and Jared Goff (Cal, 2013) each were No. 1 overall picks. Josh Rosen (UCLA, 2015) and Lamar Jackson (Louisville, 2015) were each taken in the first round. Christian Hackenberg (Penn State, 2013) was a Big Ten Freshman of the Year and became a second-round choice.
- Jake Browning (Washington, 2015) and Mayfield each won conference championships, leading their teams to the College Football Playoff.
- Matt Barkley (USC, 2009) and Brad Kaaya (Miami, 2014) became their schools' career passing leaders.
That's an amazing hit rate. Those eight have come from every Power Five conference except the SEC. That's another reason why Nix' start is so big.
As a player, Nix is a five-star prospect and son of former Auburn QB Patrick Nix. He is the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener at the school since Travis Tidwell in 1946.
Nix may have no choice but to be a sort-of savior. Coach Gus Malzahn goes into the season under pressure -- as he always seems to be. The Tigers plays one of the nation's toughest schedules.
"He's not your normal freshman, that's fair to say," Malzahn said of Nix.
(Working in Nix' favor: Two recent SEC freshmen have come close to starting their careers under center. Georgia's Jake Fromm took over in the first quarter of the 2017 season opener due to an injury. Alabama's Jalen Hurts replaced an ineffective Blake Barnett in the 2016 season opener and went on to become SEC offensive player of the year.)
Perhaps Nix is meeting college football at just the right time.
The year prior, Tua Tagovailoa as a true frosh rescued Alabama in the CFP National Championship. The losing quarterback in that game was Fromm, a true freshman.
Being young and inexperienced at the position has never mattered less. According to USA Today, only once between 2000-12 did a national champion not rely on a junior or senior as the primary starter at quarterback.
A redshirt* or true freshman quarterback has figured prominently in four national championship seasons.
- Jameis Winston*, 2013 Florida State.
- J.T. Barrett*, 2014 Ohio State
- Tua Tagovailoa, 2017 Alabama
- Trevor Lawrence, 2018 Clemson
Why is the youth so prepared? More frequently, quarterbacks are coming to college more fully formed. Over the past decade and change, personal tutor throwing coaches have become mini-celebrities.
The spread has become the most dominant offense, forming a commonality among players, coaches and programs.
Since 2016, six true freshmen Power Five QBs (all with eligibility remaining) have started since Game 1. Three of those have played for a winning team: Texas' Shane Buechele, Wake Forest's Sam Hartman and Zack Annexstad at Minnesota.
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