Auburn has named Payton Thorne its starting quarterback for the Sept. 2 season opener against UMass, CBS Sports confirms. Thorne, a transfer from Michigan State, was competing with sophomore incumbent Robby Ashford and redshirt freshman Holden Geriner for the top spot on the depth chart. 

"The guy's in here all the time," Freeze said. "I can't get rid of him. He wants to know the ins and outs of everything that I'm thinking and what [offensive coordinator] Philip [Montgomery] is thinking on every aspect of our passing game, our run game, and he's just a pro at knowing how to prepare. He's going to have the right mindset and have the understanding of the game plan for sure, and hopefully the others will also. I'm pretty confident that he is because of the way he approaches every day."

With the UMass game just over two weeks away, Freeze knew that he had to make a decision quickly. 

"My gut is usually right and I'm not saying my gut is right and Payton is the guy for all 12 games, but my gut is saying it's the time to do this and get us best prepared for the opening of the season," he said.

Freeze thrived at Ole Miss when he had a quarterback who could read the box and make smart decisions at the line of scrimmage while doing just enough in the running game to keep opposing defenses honest. That's exactly what Thorne can do. 

Thorne transferred to Auburn after two season as the starting quarterback for the Spartans. His career numbers are solid: He has a 60% completion rate with 49 passing touchdowns and six rushing scores. Those numbers compare well to the peak Chad Kelly and Bo Wallace years during Freeze's tenure at Ole Miss.

What can Thorne do as the starting quarterback of the Tigers, and what does it mean for the overall outlook of Freeze's first year on the Plains? We answer those questions below. 

The most likely outcome

Freeze made it clear he wanted to settle on a starter prior to game week, and it makes sense that Thorne is the guy. Sure, he came in after spring practice, but the new system that everybody on the roster is working to master fits his strengths. With preseason camp winding down, game prep is about to heat up after the Tigers' final scrimmage of camp on Saturday. 

"Look, it's impossible to get four guys reps in fall camp and get ready for a game," Freeze said at SEC Media Days, "so I think we've got to have a 10-day plan with three guys getting some reps, and then it's got to go down to two guys, and hopefully all will handle the competition aspects of it well."

Ashford can tote the rock, having rushed for 709 yards and seven touchdowns last season, but he only completed 49.2% of his passes with as many interceptions (7) as touchdowns. Now, that doesn't mean that he can't improve. but Auburn's disaster under Bryan Harsin didn't exactly help Ashford's development.

Freeze's strength is the stability he brings to the offense. Thorne has clearly been the guy to bridge that gap from the moment he committed to Auburn.

A small, but significant step

It's hard to imagine a schedule that includes No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama as manageable, but this season's slate is manageable by Auburn standards. Both of those games are at home in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium, which has proved to be a tough test -- especially for Alabama -- for a full decade. Plus, the Tigers drew Vanderbilt as their cross-division rotator with a road game at California (not exactly a juggernaut) as their Power Five opponent.

If Freeze can post an 8-4 or 9-3 record, which is possible with Thorne at the helm, it'll play well among high school prospects and players who end up in the transfer portal next year. That would be huge for recruiting. The role Thorne could play in that success is why he's QB1, and the impact he's already making within the program has been noticed by Freeze. 

"I think what he adds to that room right now is incredible leadership," Freeze said at SEC Media Days. "One of the first things he did is come in and say, 'Coach, is there any way someone can give me a sheet of paper that has a picture of everyone that works in this building because I want to learn everyone's name?' That's the type of leader he is."