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Niziolek: Glimpse into A-Day’s past shows exhibition’s mixed history at predicting success

Auburn quarterback John Franklin III throws the ball at the university's athletic complex Tuesday, April 5, 2016.
Auburn quarterback John Franklin III throws the ball at the university's athletic complex Tuesday, April 5, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Auburn fans have spent months pinning their hopes for a national title on junior college transfer John Franklin III sight unseen. Fans will get their first glimpse of the quarterback competing for Auburn’s starting job on Saturday at A-Day.

Is Franklin the second coming of Nick Marshall? Are the lofty expectations thrust upon the diminutive signal-caller misguided? Auburn fans looking for answers Saturday might want to pump the brakes.

The program’s annual spring game at Jordan-Hare Stadium has a spotty history of predicting future success. Names attached to the exhibition’s three MVP awards (offensive, defensive and specialty) aren’t always ones that go on to reach historic heights.

In recent years, wide receiver Myron Burton Jr. (2015), linebacker Kenny Flowers (2014) and quarterback Kiehl Frazier (2012) have won one of the awards.

No one from that group will go down in the annals of Auburn history as an all-time great. Frazier did lead a team to the postseason, but it was quarterbacking Ouachita Baptist University in Division II.

There are examples of players using A-Day as a springboard for a strong fall campaign.

After leading Auburn to an appearance in the national title game, Marshall won the offensive MVP award in the 2014 spring game throwing for more than 225 yards with four touchdowns to lead the Blue Team to a lopsided 58-3 win.

Marshall went on to top an impressive junior year in nearly every way with more than 3,000 yards of total offense and 31 touchdowns in the fall.

Running back Cameron Artis-Payne was the A-Day offensive MVP a year earlier. He ran for more than 150 yards and a touchdown to lead the Orange team to victory. The performance helped him fight his way into the rotation of a crowded Auburn backfield.

Fans ready to fill JHS this weekend hope Franklin’s career ends up similar to his fellow junior college transfers, but the quarterback’s prospects for the fall aren’t going to be fully decided in one exhibition game. If Franklin stumbles it probably won’t even slow down the comparisons being made to Nick Marshall.

Franklin’s main worry is convincing Auburn’s coaches he can help them recapture the magic they had on offense when coach Gus Malzahn arrived on the Plains in 2013.

“We're not reinventing the wheel here,” Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “We've had a lot of success for long periods of time. But it's a 'what-have-you-done-for-me-lately' kind of thing, and none of us feel good about coming up short about the things we wanted to achieve last year.”

There’s no denying an effective performance in the pressure-filled situation would help Franklin show he’s up to the task

“We’ve got a great opportunity ahead of us this year… a great schedule and a great chance to put our best foot forward and redeem ourselves a little bit,” Lashlee said.

Auburn just needs a quarterback for it to all fall in place.