One of the biggest storylines in the whole league this offseason was Auburn’s hiring of controversial coach Hugh Freeze—erstwhile of Ole Miss, until scandal brought him down—over aforementioned fan favorite and former Auburn player Cadillac Williams. The morality, wisdom, prudence, or any other aspect of this hire that is not football-related is not the focus of this article, however—and the fact is, this is a hire that makes the Tigers immediately a lot better on the field. Freeze, while at Ole Miss, was one of a very small number of coaches to beat Nick Saban in back-to-back years (a feat which Jimbo Fisher came inches away from matching this past season, as it happens). That’s nothing to scoff at. Freeze’s recruiting acumen is well-known and is a welcome change for the Tigers.
As far as this upcoming season, Freeze hit the portal hard upon being hired at Auburn in order to bolster his 2023 roster. This was an Auburn team that desperately needed a talent infusion after losing their best player by far on both sides of the ball—RB Tank Bigsby on offense and DE Derick Hall on defense. While not rising to, say, Lane Kiffin levels, it certainly seems that the Tigers will be reliant on transfers this year to a considerable degree. While not a bad strategy as a band-aid for a coach hired later in the high school recruiting cycle, it remains to be seen how effective a heavy dependence on the portal is as a long-term strategy for teams with championship aspirations. Of course, with Freeze at the helm, Auburn is not facing the same drawbacks as a team like Ole Miss vis-à-vis their head coach and high school recruiting, so it is certainly conceivable that this is a one-year strategy only.