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Auburn kicks off Hugh Freeze era against UMass. Payton Thorne set to debut as Tigers QB

UMass (1-0) at Auburn (0-0), Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Line: Auburn by 35 ½, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: First meeting.


It’s the debut for Auburn coach Hugh Freeze in his return to the Southeastern Conference. While much bigger games are to come, Tigers fans are eager for the restart after two seasons of struggles, mostly under Bryan Harsin. The offense is especially something to watch with Michigan State graduate transfer Payton Thorne taking over at quarterback and plenty of new offensive linemen and wide receivers. UMass is trying for a huge upset after losing its final nine games last season and then opening with a win (over New Mexico State) for the first time since 2018.


Auburn’s passing game vs. UMass secondary. Freeze raved about UMass coach Don Brown’s abilities as a defensive coach. Auburn is trying to improve one of last season’s worst passing offenses. UMass forced three turnovers against New Mexico State and Isaiah Rutherford returned an interception for a touchdown. It’s an important chance for Auburn to break in some new players, including receiver transfers like Omari Kelly, Shane Hooks, Nick Mardner, Caleb Burton and Jyaire Shorter.


UMass: QB Taisun Phommachanh passed for 192 yards and ran for 96 in the opener against New Mexico State. It was his UMass debut after stints at Clemson and Georgia Tech.

Auburn: QB Payton Thorne brings experience to the position that Auburn has lacked since Bo Nix transferred to Oregon. A two-time team captain at Michigan State, Thorne beat out returning starter Robby Ashford and Holden Geriner in fall camp after signing following spring practice.


Freeze is 1-3 in his debuts at a new program, including a 49-27 Ole Miss win over Central Arkansas to start the 2012 season. … Auburn sold a school-record 63,500 season tickets. The previous record of 62,900 came in 2014 with the Tigers coming off a run to the national championship game. … UMass has 15 transfers from Power Five programs on the roster. … Phommachanh was one of three transfer quarterbacks signed by UMass in the offseason. … The Minutemen scored 28 points in the fourth quarter against New Mexico State, matching the program’s highest total for a quarter as an FBS team.

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