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Maryland turns to backup quarterbacks; Auburn starter shakes illness at Music City Bowl

NASHVILLE – Once upon a time in college football, bowl predictions could be swayed because of injury or academic suspension to key players.

Whether those were the good ol’ days or not is certainly a matter of debate, but one thing is certain. Opt outs to prepare for the NFL Draft and transfer portal entrants are the current biggest casualty to postseason rosters.

Look no further for evidence of the phenomenon than the Transperfect Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium between Auburn (6-6) and Maryland (7-5) at 1 pm. Saturday (ESPN). The Tigers of the Southeastern Conference opened as a 2-point favorite, but that line vaulted to 6.5-7 when the Big Ten’s Maryland announced quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was opting out.

According to collegefootballnetwork.com, the Terrapins will also be without 13 players who entered the transfer portal (TP). Other than Tagovailoa, the all-time passing leader in Big Ten history, key players opting out for the game or are in the transfer portal include linebacker Jaishawn Barham (TP) and defensive backs Tarheeb Still (opt out) and Corey Coley Jr. (TP) Those three create a big void on defense. 

Meanwhile, Auburn is without 10 players who are in the portal. Three key losses, however, could be from opt outs by cornerbacks DJ James and Nehemiah Pritchett and defensive tackle D.J. James.

“I like our kids’ attention,” Auburn Head Coach Hugh Freeze, who recently landed the nation’s No. 7 recruiting class, said Wednesday before the Tigers began earnest preparations in Nashville. “Obviously, we’ve got to play some younger kids, particularly in the secondary with ours moving on to the NFL or other things.

“I’m excited to see how they perform in this.”

With Tagovailoa out, backup quarterbacks Billy Edwards Jr. and Cam Edge are expected to each see the bulk of snaps versus Auburn. Tigers quarterback Payton Thorne returned to team workouts this week after missing time pre-Christmas because of illness.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “I don’t think that’ll be an issue moving forward. We’re here to win a football game. This isn’t a vacation.

“We’ll have a good time but we’re here to play a game.”

In this current atmosphere of opt outs and the portal, Georgia vs. Florida State in the Orange Bowl has gone from a headliner into an undercard matchup. Both have at least 19 players who won’t be in Miami.

The College Football Playoff squads didn’t escape portal defections, either: Alabama (5), Michigan (2), Texas (9) and Washington (3) will have missing players.

Whatever the landscape, Auburn and Freeze are happy to be back in the bowl scene after a one-year absence.

“This is a really quality team we’re playing,” Freeze said. “Coach (Mike) Loxley’s done a real nice job.”

Auburn vs. Maryland (Auburn leads series 2-1):

  • 1983 (Nov. 5, Auburn) — Auburn 20, Maryland 7
  • 1958 (Oct. 25, Auburn) — Auburn 20, Maryland 7
  • 1952 (Sept. 7, Birmingham) — Maryland 13, Auburn


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