Can Jeremy Johnson Live Up To The Hype As Auburn's Next Star?
One of the most talked about teams heading into the 2015 season has been the Auburn Tigers. The Tigers have been named the odds-on favorite by multiple publications to win the SEC and make the College Football Playoff--mostly due to the intensity that new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is expected to bring. And, while that defense has a lot riding on its shoulders, the hype in Auburn has also been swirling around another budding star, a player that most seem to think can lead the Tigers back to a national title.
Not since Cam Newton led the Tigers to a national title in 2010, has there been much focus on an Auburn quarterback--Jeremy Johnson has certainly changed that. Ever since he made his first and only career start against Arkansas last season - a game in which he completed 12 of 16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in just a single half of action - talk has centered around the bright future this offense could have with Johnson under center.
But is the hype warranted? Everyone's been thrilled with what they've seen, but the fact is, there hasn't been that much too see given the fact that Johnson has only played in 11 career games for Auburn. Besides that half of action against the Razorbacks last season, the only other contests in which Johnson attempted more than five passes came in 2013 against Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina.
Gus Malzahn's track record with quarterbacks and an impressive spring game fueled the fire that has only just started to burn as Johnson's career is set to truly begin. Johnson was a highly touted recruit out of high school, given a 4-star rating by Rivals and ranked fifth at his position as a pro-style QB. He has also spent the most time in Malzahn's system of any highly touted QB, so the expectations are pretty high going into 2015.
I guess the question then really becomes, "how good will he be?"
Being frank, Johnson will already be able to put up good numbers based on the system that Malzahn employs. At 6'5", 250 pounds, Johnson is a pretty good athlete for his size even though he doesn't like to pull down the ball and run a lot. He lets his arm do most of the talking and that's exactly what the Tigers need to bolster their passing offense that ranked 67th in the nation last year, averaging 229.5 yards through the air.
Johnson may remind people a lot of another QB Gus Malzahn had the privilege of mentoring - Cam Newton. Although it's way too early to even begin that comparison, you just can't help but see the similarities between the two. They both have similar body types and each have the ability to be a gamechanger, which may be the reason why Johnson currently has a 20/1 shot at winning the Heisman (according to Bovada, via Odds Shark).
The one thing that Johnson does have going is that first-year starting quarterbacks in the SEC have really done well recently. Four of the last six SEC Champions have had first time starting QB's dating back to Greg McElroy with Alabama in 2009. Building on that further, five of the last six national champions have had rookie quarterbacks under center.
What remains to be seen is if Johnson is ready to handle the pressure of being a starter at such a storied and prominent program. The Tigers will be tested right out of the gates as they take on Louisville in a neutral site game in Atlanta. And it doesn't get any easier as Johnson will get his first road test in Death Valley against LSU just two weeks later. Lucky for him, though, the toughest games on Auburn's schedule after that are at home. The Tigers face Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama at home this year, giving Johnson at least some level of comfort in his first season under center.
While we may have to wait to see how Johnson can really perform on the field as a consistent starter, it's fun to imagine just how good this guy can truly be. His early video reveals his potential as an elite talent, but we won't truly know the height of his ceiling until he steps on to the field every Saturday. If what he's already shown in mop-up time and that one half against Arkansas is any indication of what kind of quarterback he can be on a regular basis, Auburn could be looking at a repeat of its 2010 National Title season.