AUBURN, Ala. — The NCAA has ruled Auburn senior wide receiver Montez Billings out for the first four games of the season because of an academic issue, the school announced Thursday.
Billings, who returned to practice this August after sitting out the spring, graduated in May but still had an undisclosed NCAA-related academic issue he had to satisfy before he was cleared for games. Coach Gene Chizik has said the issue was “out of his hands.”
“This is unfortunate for Montez, but we’ve exhausted all avenues to get him on the field as soon as possible,” said Auburn senior associate athletics director Rich McGlynn, who handles NCAA compliance for the university. “While we don’t necessarily agree with the NCAA’s ruling, we have to respect and abide by their decision.”
Billings will be eligible to play in Week 5, Auburn’s first SEC road game Oct. 3 at Tennessee.
“We would have liked to had a decision that was more favorable,” Chizik said. “But it is what it is, like I said, and we’re moving on. He’s been great. And he’s looking forward to getting back for the fifth game of the year.”
The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Billings is the Tigers’ leading returning receiver. He caught 24 passes for 277 yards last season. Auburn’s other returning healthy receivers combined for 15 catches last year.
Billings has started 20 games in three years. The senior from Pelham, Ala., has 55 career catches for 645 yards and one touchdown.
Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said earlier this week that Billings, who works at one outside receiver position in Gus Malzahn’s offense (the “9”), would be one of the six receivers in the rotation as soon as he is available.
But Billings’ role diminished as Auburn began preparation for its Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana Tech. He has worked with the scout team this week, sporting a blue, nameless No. 19 jersey during Thursday’s practice instead of his usual No. 84.
“He’s in all the meetings, in terms of staying with our offense,” Chizik said. “He’s going to help our football team anyway we ask him to help it. Scout team, if that shoe fits, then that’s what we’ll do. But he’s certainly going to stay up on everything because we’re looking forward to getting him to help us.”
Auburn has several options in Billings’ absence. Freshman DeAngelo Benton recently moved up to the top spot on the depth chart at the “9” position, according to Taylor.
Other options include Darvin Adams, a slot receiver who missed Thursday’s practice with an undisclosed injury, and converted quarterback Kodi Burns.
Emory Blake, a polished freshman from Austin, Texas, will be in the mix as well. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound receiver had worked mostly as an outside receiver on the other side of the ball (the “2” position), but is taking reps at the “9” now.
“Coach Troop says every day is an interview, and the doors are always open,” Blake said. “You just have to come in and make plays every day, and, if you do that, you’ll see your way on the field.”
Sophomore Quindarius Carr, who can play all three receiver positions, is also in the running for playing time.
“He’s kind of my catch-all,” Taylor said. “I feel like I can move him all the way around.”
Chizik said the team wasn’t caught off guard by Thursday’s news.
“Any time there’s a guy who you know can play for you and he’s not, you’ve got to make provisions for that,” he said. “We’ve always got a plan.”