Last week, a photo of Auburn quarterback Bo Nix went viral after fans and reporters took note of the sophomore’s bolstered physique. Listed at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, Nix looked fragile at times last season. Still, he maintained a certain physicality and fearlessness that players and coaches look for in their leader.
Nix’s recent weight gain is dissimilar to that of the commonly swelling figures of other college students. The all encompassing phrase – Freshman 15 – depicts the college tradition of developing poor eating habits as an 18-year-old’s first taste of freedom coincides with the taste of midnight pizza orders, TV dinners and a Twinkie addiction. It appears that Nix, however, has put down the sweet, cream filled, diabetes inducing sponge cake, put on his headphones, put Eye of the Tiger on full blast and bulked up total Rocky Balboa style.
Does this mean he’s ready to make the jump from SEC Freshman of the Year to SEC Player of the Year – or even straight up Player of the Year? I don’t know. But we can look at the history of past elite freshman quarterbacks to try and decipher if Nix will flourish or falter during his second season on the plains.
For scientific purposes, we will examine two cases: one, where a quarterback progressed after his solid first year campaign, and two, where a quarterback regressed after an incredibly successful first year.
Progression – Peyton Manning:
Year 1: 11 games. 61.8% completion. 1,141 yards. 11 touchdowns. 6 interceptions. QB rating 145.2
Year 2: 11 games. 64.2% completion. 2,954 yards. 22 touchdowns. 4 interceptions. QB rating 146.5
Regression – Jameis Winston:
Year 1: 14 games. 66.9% completion. 4,057 yards. 40 touchdowns. 10 interceptions. QB rating 184.8. ACC Freshman of the Year. Heisman trophy.
Year 2: 13 games. 65.3% completion. 3,907 yards. 25 touchdowns. 18 interceptions. QB rating 145.5.
Bo Nix’s in year one: 13 games. 57.6% completion. 2,542 yards. 16 touchdowns. 6 interceptions. QB rating 125.0. SEC Freshman of the Year.
Across the board, Nix’s first season on the plains was statistically more similar to Manning. While Manning’s numbers were far from impeccable, he threw the ball only 144 times compared to Nix’s 377. Both quarterbacks were in an offense where passing was not the feature element. The amount of throws that Nix attempted was actually closer to Winston’s tally of 384. If anything, however, that is a reflection of the evolution of football, not the talent level and projected career arcs of the respective quarterbacks.
I don’t think anyone expects Nix to throw for 40 touchdowns and 4,000 yards – in 2020 or ever. Gus Malzahn wouldn’t throw the ball that often if he was guaranteed free Waffle House for life. Unlike Winston, Nix will not peak in year one. The more likely second year outcome for Nix is one similar to Manning again. Be a leader. Be a game manager with the cerebral ability to pick defenses apart and make any throw. Make good decisions. Let the run set up the pass, and use play action to hit big plays over the top.
When I say game manager, i’m not expecting Nix to ride the heels of his supporting cast. I’m also not saying Nix is going to become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, but, he could. He already has a head start on Manning in terms of accolades. The two-time Super Bowl champion didn’t receive proper recognition until being named SEC Player of the Year and winning the Maxwell Award in his senior season.
If Nix takes note of Manning, then he will continue on the righteous path. If he studies Winston’s peculiar training drills and Wild Wild West style of heedless play, he could be susceptible to a similarly underwhelming second year. Bo Twix is an easily avoidable nickname. Fulfilling his utmost potential is a more difficult task. Keep eating those protein bars QB1. Bo Thic’s sounds better to me.