TJ Finley has decided to join Bryan Harsin’s Auburn Tigers over Alabama, Penn State, and Houston.
Truly, I think this is the first big recruiting win for Harsin. Why? Simple, because Alabama was in Finley’s top four. It does seem that Alabama viewed Finley as a surplus, but for Harsin and Co., this is the first chance to go head to head against Nick Saban in a recruiting battle. Hopefully this will give Harsin some momentum and translate to incoming high school talent.
So, what does Finley bring to the Auburn quarterback room?
Because he is listed at 6’6, 242 lbs, the mouths of Auburn fans immediately begin watering at the thought of another Cam Newton-esque QB on The Plains. I’m not going to go as far as saying he will be that good, but he is an immediate boost of talent in a relatively thin QB room. Behind Bo Nix, there is not much to write home about. Grant Loy, the sixth year senior, was projected to break Fall Camp as QB2. True Freshman Dematrius Davis has a ton of upside, but is a work in progress for Harsin and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. Finley brings SEC experience, which is extremely rare for a true freshman. Oh, and he’s a freshman who is burning his one-time free transfer for Auburn. Because of the 2020 pandemic, the NCAA is allowing everyone a “free” transfer that does not require them to sit a year. The only hurdle for Finley to get on the field for Auburn is the SEC, but it is widely expected the SEC will pass the rule proposing players to play immediately if they transfer within the conference.
Finley started 5 games for LSU last season, including the 48-7 drubbing by Auburn. That game was his last start of the season. He did not impress in Jordan-Hare Stadium, but he caught the Auburn defense at a bad time. That performance by Auburn was one the best I remember seeing in a while by a Gus Malzahn team. In Finley’s 5 starts, LSU was 2-3. Finley was pretty good, especially as a freshman. He completed 80 of 140 passes (57%), for 941 yards. He had 5 touchdown passes and 5 interceptions. The big number that excited me there is the 57% completion percentage. Bo Nix’s accuracy has become a bit of a concern, simply because he didn’t improve from his freshman season last year. The magic number on completion percentage is 60%. I think you have to complete at least 60% of your passes to be really successful in the SEC. With Finley, Auburn is getting a guy that has proven he can complete most of his passes, and with a year or two under Harsin and Bobo, I think Finley can get up to 65%. The highlights on Finley show he is a QB that can make all the throws. He can throw the fastball over the middle on a slant. He can throw the fade down by the goal line. He can put the soft touch you need on the ball to throw a drag route. Bo Nix will need to show improvement on those types of throws, or he will have Finley breathing down his neck quickly.
With all that being said, I do not expect Finley to see the field much in 2021. The sooner Auburn can get him signed and locked in, the higher chance he will have of playing meaningful snaps. I think he will be QB2 unofficially when the season starts. What I mean by that is, when Auburn (hopefully) gets up big against Akron and Alabama State, Grant Loy won’t be the QB they send out there to get some game reps. The best news for Finley is everyone in the QB room is still learning this new offense; no one is expert yet. If he can get a grasp on it quickly, we might have a true QB battle in Fall Camp. Experience will likely win out, it usually does in the SEC, but TJ Finley will make an impact at Auburn in 2021 whether he is on the field or not. Auburn fans should be excited, and not dwell on his game against Auburn last year because he is a better quarterback than that. Fans should also be excited because Finley is the best competition Bo Nix has had since he arrived at Auburn. Finley is the first QB that could actually usurp the Auburn legacy from his starting job.
All in all, great job by Bryan Harsin and Mike Bobo taking their time with finding a transfer QB. They seemed to be interested in any and every QB that entered the portal. They didn’t take just anybody. They waited and got a guy that will actually factor into their plans. I think Auburn got a true gem in Finley. He is still raw, but under Harsin and Bobo’s tutelage, Finley can become one of the top QBs in the SEC.