Auburn Lands Payton Thorne

Payton Thorne Auburn

The Auburn Tigers made a huge addition on Friday when they landed Michigan State transfer quarterback Payton Thorne. The former Spartan had entered the transfer portal on Sunday and was instantly a target for head coach Hugh Freeze. After the Auburn A-Day Game in April, Freeze had mentioned they would look to add players including at quarterback. Thorne goes into a quarterback room that features the 2022 starter in Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner. Auburn needed to add another quarterback after the departure of TJ Finley earlier in the week.

Auburn Lands Payton Thorne

Who is Payton Thorne?

Thorne was a three-star recruit out of Metea Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois, and part of the 2018 class for Michigan State. He served mostly as a backup for the 2020 season but got his first start on the road against Penn State to close out the season. In the 39-24 defeat he played well passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns. The Spartans had a great season in 2021 with Thorne as the full-time starter. The star of that team though was Big Ten leading rusher Kenneth Walker III. While Walker was the focus of the offense with 1,636 yards on the ground, Thorne was doing more than just handing off.

That season he was fourth in the conference with 3,240 yards, and third in touchdowns with 27. He passed for at least 250 yards eight times, with three performances of over 300. While not a great statistical performance he helped led Michigan State to a 37-33 win over then-sixth-ranked Michigan. In the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl against Pittsburgh, he had his best performance. Thorne passed for 354 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-21 win without Walker in the lineup.

After going 11-2 in 2021, 2022 was not the same story for Michigan State. The team struggled to a 2-4 start to the season and finished with a 5-7 record. Thorne played well despite the struggles and lack of rushing attack with Walker. He passed for 2,679 yards and 19 touchdowns but improved on his completion percentage. That number went from 60.4 in 2021 to 62.5 in 2022. The Spartans finished with the fifth-best passing attack in the Big Ten. Something that was always an issue for Thorne and the offense was a lacking defense. In 2021 they were able to overcome it but last season the team could not overcome the second worse total defense in the Big Ten.

QB Battle?

While Thorne has shown he has what it takes to be the starting quarterback for a power five team, there will be a competition at Auburn. Freeze has talked highly of Robby Ashford, and the Hoover native will not give up the starting job without a battle. He showed his competitiveness and fight throughout the 2021 season. Ashford passed for 1,613 yards and seven touchdowns last season but struggled with accuracy with a 49% completion rate. He also totaled 710 yards on the ground for seven more scores. Even if Thorne wins the competition in fall camp, Ashford should still be a factor as a good change-up for Auburn in the run game. The third factor is Holden Geriner, who no one will expect to win the job but has received high praise. Before the arrival of Thorne, he was tabbed as the best pure thrower on the football team.

Who Would Thorne Throw To?

Quarterback was a big question going into Spring but so were the receivers. That position did not answer many questions after the spring either. Receivers returning from the 2022 Tigers are Camden Brown, Ja’Varrius Johnson, and Koy Moore. Brown got a lot of high praise after one of the spring scrimmages. Auburn added Cincinnati transfer Nick Mardner during the first transfer portal window, and Florida International tight-end Rivaldo Fairweather to enhance the pass-catchers on the team. On Saturday, Auburn added former Ohio State Buckeye Caleb Burton to the receiving room. Burton was a four-star recruit out of Austin, Texas in the 2022 class for the Buckeyes. He was ranked as the seventh-best receiver in that class by 247 Sports. The Auburn receivers do not lack potential, but it will need to be unlocked for whoever is the starting quarterback whether it be Thorne or Ashford.


Payton Thorne Auburn

Photo courtesy: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports