AUBURN – On any given Saturday, Bo Nix could trade a football for a sling.
Auburn’s chosen son is charged with slaying goliaths this season.
The true freshman quarterback stares down a long list of experienced opposing signal-callers lining this year’s schedule, starting with Saturday’s opener against Oregon and the Ducks’ senior star Justin Herbert.
Giants in the college football world, and villains on the Plains, Tua Tagovailoa is readying his team of titans over in Tuscaloosa, while Jake Fromm is reloading for another shot at immortality across the state line in Georgia.
They’re enough to send a new kid shaking.
But Nix isn’t some normal kid – so Auburn insists.
If he was, Gus Malzahn wouldn’t have named Nix the team’s starter for Saturday’s game against Herbert, a fourth-year starter at Oregon and a touted NFL Draft prospect.
The son of a Tiger and a five-star child of destiny, Nix’s journey to this point is already a bit like a fairytale.
But his story is just beginning, and in his freshman chapter he’s cast into the fire opposite experienced elites like Herbert, Fromm and Tagovailoa.
And Auburn’s excited to see it.
“I think he’s definitely in that caliber of player,” said Auburn’s senior right tackle Jack Driscoll this week, unflinching. A veteran lineman is always going to have the back of his young quarterback. Driscoll, though, is a sharp graduate transfer from UMass and an honor roll athlete, whose words carry weight – and inspire confidence.
“I think you guys will see on Saturday night that he’s in that group of players,” he said of that new kid, of young Nix, jumping into the fray.
“Obviously, we don’t 100-percent know going into the game, but some of the plays he makes and the throws he makes are spectacular,” Driscoll said. “I think he’s mature enough where he’s not going to let going against Justin Herbert or Jake Fromm bother him – that he’s ready for the challenge and he’s ready to step up for the challenge.”
What a challenge it will be.
To be clear, Malzahn has only named a Game 1 starter, saying Nix would start the opener after beating out redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood in an open competition in fall camp. If things go the way the Tigers want, Nix could start throughout the season, and either way, in either Nix or Gatewood, an Auburn youngster figures to go head-to-head with six players on Auburn’s schedule wearing a wealth of experience on the big stage.
It starts with Herbert, a Heisman Trophy candidate who threw for 3,000-plus yards last season.
At Texas A&M, Auburn is set to face third-year starter Kellen Mond. LSU’s Joe Burrow is warming up for his second season behind center in Baton Rouge, after transferring from Ohio State.
“The only way to prove yourself around here is to win the big game,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said about Burrow last September. That Saturday he outdueled Jarrett Stidham and Burrow and LSU beat Auburn 22-21 in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Then there’s Florida’s third-year starter Feleipe Franks, who won one of those big games last Saturday with the world watching in the Gators’ survive-and-advance effort against Miami.
Auburn travels to Gainesville in October, going to the same place where Nix’s father hit Frank Sanders for one of his legendary touchdown passes in 1994.
For Auburn this year, it could take more Nix magic for the Tigers to get past some of college football’s brightest stars.
Auburn kicks off against Oregon at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on ABC inside AT&T Stadium in Texas.
“You’re talking about a true freshman and his first start is against one of the best teams in the country – College Gameday’s there and (Kirk) Herbstreit’s doing the game – it’s as big as it gets,” Malzahn said, knowing full well what’s coming for his young quarterback.
“We need to be really good around him. That’s really been our message. I’m just asking him to play and to be himself, and we’re going to try to do some things he feels comfortable with. We’re taking in a game plan that really is a lot built around him, what his comfort zone is and everything that goes with it.
“I’m excited for Bo. I know our team is. He’s earned the right to lead us out there, and we’ll see what happens.”