HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Auburn coach Gus Malzahn makes it clear that his top early priority for preseason camp is picking a starting quarterback.
He said Thursday he expects "a fierce battle" between redshirt freshman Joey Gatewood and five-star recruit Bo Nix. Both are threats to run the ball, and Malzahn has had his biggest success at Auburn with dual-threat quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Nick Marshall.
"That's really a game changer," said Malzahn, who took over play-calling duties again starting with the Music City Bowl against Purdue. He got off to a good start with a 63-14 victory.
The Tigers are replacing two-year starter Jarrett Stidham, who left early to enter the NFL draft. They sputtered at times last season before the bowl game and went 8-5.
Whoever wins the job will make his first start against Oregon in Arlington, Texas.
Gatewood's only action came in the bowl game when he attempted only one pass but gained 28 yards on three runs. Nix was rated the nation's top dual-threat quarterback prospect by the 247Sports composite rankings of the major recruiting sites.
Last year's backup, Malik Willis, has transferred to Liberty.
As for the competition, Malzahn said he doesn't want to rush into picking a starter.
"Usually what happens is the whole team knows," he said. "I hope that is early, but I'm not going to try to push it. I'm just going to let it happen."