Upcoming junior Kodi Burns and senior Chris Todd were neck and neck in 2008 through spring, summer, preseason practices and into the season. Both are returning for 2009 and will be joined by junior Neil Caudle and redshirt freshman Barrett Trotter in competing to become the starting quarterback.
Unlike last season, however, Gus Malzahn wants only one starter. Asked if there could be a two-quarterback system, Malzahn says, "No."
"With what we do, we're a quarterback-oriented system," Malzahn explains. "I think that you've got to have a guy. You've got to have a guy and he's going to be that leader. At the same time we'll have a Wildcat guy that will do some different things.
"Obviously at the end of spring you would like to have a guy that can go into the summer and here's our guy and he's going to work on the timing with the ones and all of that," the first-year Auburn offensive coordinator continues. "I can't say that for sure right now (when the starter will be named). Ideally that would be the best case scenario, but at the same time you've got to have somebody that earns it, that separates their self from the rest of them, so we'll just have to see."
Burns was second on the team in 2008 with 411 rushing yards. His running ability stands out above the other candidates.
"I think it's important enough to take what they give you, and to run it at times," Malzahn says of his quarterbacks' athletic abilities. "We don't have to have a 4.4 or 4.5 guy, but we have to have a good operator. If you look back at the kid we had last year at Tulsa, Davey Johnson, he ran a 5-flat (40 time). But he was such a good operator with the read zone. He could steal you an extra 10 or 15 yards through his execution. We will have to have a quarterback that can make plays with his feet."
A year ago, Todd started most of the games early in the season despite a throwing shoulder that was less than 100 percent because of an AC sprain. He gave way for Burns by midseason, and Caudle and Trotter were given looks at possibly earning the job late in the year.
Todd had surgery on his shoulder during the off season.
"He started throwing and it's hard to say exactly where he'll be," Malzahn notes. "I know he's planning on going through spring. We're going to have to see where he's at."
Malzahn and the rest of the new Auburn coaches have spent hours and hours since signing day reviewing the tapes of last years' games trying to get ready for spring practice. However, prior to watching the game film Malzahn already had an idea about Burns and Caudle.
"I watched (Burns) and the other quarterbacks, but I'm more familiar with him," he recalls of Burns. "I actually coached against him in high school. He's got a great attitude right now. I know he's been working extremely hard, as well as the other quarterbacks have. He's ready to get to spring. It'll be interesting to see.
"I'm fairly familiar with Neil, too," Malzahn adds. "When I was at Springdale (High School) we went to Hoover 7-on-7 (passing camps) and Spain Park was there. Mitch Mustain and Neil were buddies. They were in that Elite 11 group. I'm fairly familiar with him. He's a rhythm quarterback. He's got a really good arm. I do know that about him. He seems like a super kid. He's the type of kid with the characteristics of what you look for in a quarterback. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do."
Trotter redshirted last season as a true freshman.
"I'm not real familiar with him, but I have heard good things about him," Malzahn says of Trotter. "I really, really like him as a person. He's got that ability too that he can make a play with his arm and his feet."
While there will be only one starting quarterback, there may be multiple candidates to play the Wildcat position which Malzahn popularized at Arkansas with Darren McFadden. The Wildcat set is when a non-quarterback skill player takes the shotgun snap. He can handoff, keep, or on some occasions throw a pass.
Mario Fannin, who was a high school quarterback, took a handful of snaps in that role for Auburn last season.
"He'd probably be a guy," Malzahn says of Fannin. "He's real versatile and he can do some things. We've got some guys coming in that I think can do that same thing. With the current group I'd probably say that Fannin would be the best bet in the spring."
Both Rollison and Moseley led their teams to the state championship as seniors.
"We feel like both of those young men are going to be very good quarterbacks for us in the future," Malzahn says. "They fit to what we're looking for. They're both winners. They're both used to winning and leading their teams, and both can make the play in the air and make the plays with their feet.
"They're fairly similar if you really look at them," he continues. "Both of them can make plays and both of them are used to winning. I think there is great power in quarterbacks that are used to winning. You look at both of those guys winning championships, that's what they're used to doing. They're both very good leaders. They both have that ‘it' factor. As a quarterback you have to have that and the intangibles to make everybody else on the same page and make everybody the best they can be."
Malzahn's first season as a college offensive coordinator was at Arkansas after making the move from Springdale High School. Mustain was his quarterback at Springdale in 2005 and then again in 2006 as the two moved on to Arkansas. Mustain made eight starts that year, all wins.
Could Rollison or Moseley make the earn a starting role as a true freshman?
"I would say if they are talented enough," Malzahn notes. "Every now and then you'll find a special guy that will do that. It's really hard for me to say that right now. Both of those guys are very, very talented quarterbacks."
Asked what he wants out of his quarterback, Malzahn says, "I'm looking for a guy that is not only a good player and a good leader, but somebody that makes the guys around them better than they really are."