AUBURN — We've known since the first day in May that Auburn would start a freshman at quarterback against Oregon on Aug. 31 in Arlington, Texas. The only question was whether it would be a redshirt freshman or a true freshman: Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix.
On Tuesday — 12 days before that first game — we learned the answer.
Nix, the five-star dual-threat quarterback ranked No. 1 at his position in the Class of 2019, will start for the Tigers against the Ducks in the first game of his college career. Head coach Gus Malzahn announced his decision before practice Tuesday after spending the previous two days meeting with his staff.
"This is a dream come true," Nix said at a news conference Tuesday evening.
Nix will be the eighth quarterback in Auburn history to make his first career start as a true freshman (which has been allowed by rule since 1972) and first since Montgomery's Jeremy Johnson in 2013. He'll be the second to do so in a season-opener after Travis Tidwell, who did so in 1946 when there was a shortage of players due to World War II.
Malzahn said Nix is "not your normal freshman."
As for the timing of the announcement, Malzahn said, "Just felt like we needed to let our team know who the starting quarterback would be going into Oregon."
He added that he told Gatewood that he'll "help us win this year."
While Nix is probably not the type of runner the 6-foot-5, 233-pound Gatewood is in the open field, he's not purely a pocket passer, either — he rushed for 417 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior at Pinson Valley and should be much more of a threat to carry the ball than Stidham was.
"He can run," Malzahn said. "He can really run. Joey can run, too. That's the good thing about it: Both of them are true dual-threat guys. ... Bo is a lot faster than people give him credit for."
This is a job Nix has been preparing for almost his entire life. He's not only the son of a coach, but the son of a former Auburn quarterback, too — Patrick Nix threw for 4,957 yards and 31 touchdowns over 32 games for the Tigers from 1992-95 and spent the next 17 years as a college coach, which included Jacksonville State, Henderson State, Samford, Georgia Tech, Miami and Charleston Southern.
Bo Nix spent his high school career playing for his father, who was the head coach at Scottsboro High from 2013-16 and has been at Pinson Valley since 2017.
"I'm new to Auburn. And he's like the walking encyclopedia," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Kenny Dillingham said. "I mean, we have the quarterbacks over to my house, and I forget what we were talking about. And Bo talked about like a 1987 game where we caught a fade ball or something. And I go to a book I have of Auburn history. And he's over here telling me about things that happened before he was born.
"So, I mean, for me, that's the biggest thing. He's all in on Auburn. He's all in."
Nix, the reigning Alabama Mr. Football, set state records with more than 12,000 yards of total offense and 161 total touchdowns (127 passing, 34 rushing) during an illustrious high school career playing for his dad. In his final game this past December, he threw a touchdown to the same corner of the same end zone at Jordan-Hare Stadium that his father once hit Frank Sanders in the 1993 Iron Bowl to help lead Pinson Valley to a second consecutive Class 6A state championship.
"Only God can write a script like that," Patrick Nix said afterward.
Bo Nix arrived at Auburn a few weeks later as the least experienced player in a four-man quarterback competition that also included Gatewood, redshirt freshman former minor league baseball player Cord Sandberg and junior Malik Willis (who has since transferred to Liberty). By the end of his first spring on campus, he had risen to "1b" to Gatewood's "1a."
He spent the summer working to improve himself further, including training in California with former NFL quarterback Jordan Palmer, who also worked with former Tigers quarterback Jarrett Stidham. Not long after preseason camp began, it became clear that Nix had moved ahead of Gatewood, as he was the one first in the pecking order during practices and scrimmages.
It stands to reason that the Tigers could find a way to use both. Even if they don't do that against Oregon in the opener, non-conference home games against Tulane and Kent State the next two weeks should provide an opportunity to give each quarterback more game experience.
But for now, the biggest question Auburn faced entering preseason camp has an answer — Nix will start at quarterback Aug. 31 at AT&T Stadium.