The Heisman Trophy winner and SEC Player of the Year, Newton led one of the top offenses in Auburn history in 2010 on the way to the BCS National Championship.
Faced with the job of finding and coaching his replacement is offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. The good news for Auburn is that Malzahn has had a different quarterback in each of his five seasons as a coordinator on the college level so he knows how to adjust his offense to fit the skill of his signal-caller.
Heading into 2011 Malzahn has three players to choose from with it likely a two-man race coming out of the gate. Junior Barrett Trotter and sophomore Clint Moseley are the two veterans of the quarterback race this preseason with true freshman and National Player of the Year Kiehl Frazier joining in the competition beginning Wednesday night. Malzahn said he's anxious to see how everything plays out in the coming weeks.
"We have our base offense we'll run every year," Malzahn says. "Once we identify our quarterback we'll build around his strengths. The positives are the two guys who are coming back, it's their third year to be in the system. Clint has a really good understanding of what we're doing and Barrett has a very good understanding also.
"Kiehl is coming in and even though he's run a very similar offense in high school things are completely different as far as communication, the pre-snap and the speed of the game. With both of those guys we're going into this thing with a very open mind trying to figure out who gives us the best chance of winning."
Auburn's number two quarterback last season, Trotter picked up valuable experience during the season and played briefly in the SEC Championship Game. While he only played a handful of plays and didn't throw a pass, Moseley added to his knowledge of the offense and the position.
In spring practice the two battled from start to finish and neither could win the job outright. Many have taken that as a bad sign for Auburn's quarterback position, but Malzahn said it had as much to do with the rest of the guys missing on offense as it did the quarterback.
"In the spring we were so thin it was sometimes hard to evaluate both of them," Malzahn said. "We had a bunch of new faces who were just learning the offense. Both of them had a good attitude. They both want to be the starting quarterback. I think that's important. They've both had good summers as far as taking care of their business."
On the Auburn campus since his May graduation at Shiloh Christian in Springdale, Ark., Frazier is a physically gifted quarterback who can beat defenses throwing or running the football.
Playing in a very similar offense to the one that Auburn employs, Frazier won't be nearly as behind the veterans as many true freshmen quarterbacks. Even with that help though Malzahn said there's so much thrown on an incoming freshman that they are hoping to see some flashes out of him early in camp to get a feel for where he is as a player.
"I think anytime you're familiar it will help you," Malzahn said of Frazier. "At the same time we're on a pretty tight schedule. The earlier you can name your guy in camp the better you are as far as getting the timing down.
"It's such a timing offense that things will be accelerated," the coach noted. "He'll have to show what he can do. The fact that he has an understanding somewhat of what we do should be a benefit to a young guy."
With the season opener on Sept. 3 against Utah State, Malzahn and the Tigers would like to have a starting quarterback named in plenty of time to get the offensive unit meshing well. Even though it would be nice to have a starter following the first week, Malzahn said it's not something they will rush into because so much goes into which player is the starting quarterback.
"As soon as possible, but at the same time so many jobs are open," Malzahn said of when he would like to name his starter. "To properly evaluate a quarterback you need to have guys in the right spots. It's hard to say there's an exact time. There's a lot more to playing quarterback than just throwing and handing the ball off.
"The intangibles of leadership and how the team responds to you are important," the coach added. "We want enough situations in practice to know how they're going to respond to good things, adversity, little things in the meeting room, little things like being on time. All that has to do with who will be the guy."
Auburn will open preseason practices Wednesday night and practice through Saturday before taking the first day off on Sunday.