Bo Nix is having more fun than anyone in college football
The Oregon quarterback shed what was supposed to be and became something even better: A Heisman candidate.
EUGENE — Bo Nix has been doing this long enough to know when not to speak.
Heck, the Oregon quarterback has had microphones in his face since his dad decided he was ready to start on the high school varsity team in eighth grade. You don’t play quarterback in Alabama, be named Mr. Football in Alabama and then later beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl without knowing how to find the safety valve in a press scrum.
So on a November afternoon with the college football world seemingly in his palm, Nix dances around a few questions about himself as if he were cutting his way through yet another Pac-12 defense.
“I think if you take me out of the equation, our offense as a whole … we’re so dynamic,” Nix says. “You can’t really just say it’s me because you’ve got guys running touchdowns, you’ve got guys catching touchdowns…”
And if he would have added, “Guys throwing touchdowns,” he would have quoted his stat line from Saturday, when he passed for 274 yards and two scores, rushed for a pair of touchdowns and hauled in an 18-yard touchdown pass from running back Bucky Irving. The Ducks won 49-10, their eighth in a row since Georgia, and Nix continued to play the position as well as anyone who’s donned the “O” — a list that includes a Heisman Trophy winner, an NFL Hall of Famer1 and a hometown hero currently slinging it for the Chargers.
It’s the type of success expected from a 5-star prospect who passed for 10,393 yards, rushed for 2,112 yards and accounted for 161 touchdowns during his high school career. The type of success that seemed destined after he opened his Auburn career with a win against Justin Herbert and Oregon was closely followed by beating ‘Bama.
This was the success that was supposed to come at Auburn for a legacy son — not in Eugene for another transfer quarterback trying to put together the pieces of an oft-criticized career.
Yes, that part. Nix won’t say much about the negative that’s been written about him — or the cascade of recent mea culpas. He knows better than to answer this one, even as a smile as wide open as Oregon’s offense curls across his face.
You have national writers writing columns basically apologizing, saying they were wrong about you, that doesn’t do anything?
The smile grows. He finds something.
“The thing about college football is sometimes you don’t get to see what guys can do until a little bit later. Some guys go a little sooner. Some guys go a little later,” he says. “I mean, that’s a tough question because I am in such a good position to where it’s hard to, uh, I mean it’s hard to say, that, like…I don’t know.”
You can tell he wants to give in here. But Bo Nix doesn’t make mistakes anymore.
“I don’t really want to comment a whole lot because that’s how you get in trouble.”
More than 2,500 miles away from home, Nix isn’t just staying out of trouble. He’s having more fun than anyone in college football.
After the Iron Bowl, Nix wouldn’t let the game ball out of his sight. He carried it off the field following No. 15 Auburn’s 48-45 win over No. 6 Alabama and hugged it close as cameras engulfed him in the same locker room of the same stadium his dad, Patrick, quarterbacked the Tigers in two decades earlier.
Nix had envisioned all of this — from going to Auburn to earning the starting job as a freshman to even the type of performance he’d have against his team’s biggest rival.
Would he have ever believed he’d knock the Crimson Tide out of the College Football Playoff race without even throwing a pick?
“Yep,” Nix said. “I would have taken it, too.”
It’s hard to come across as cocky when you’re doing as expected, and nobody expected this more out of Nix than Nix. Football has always been Nix’s only option. He was better than everyone at flag football. If he watched TV, it was tuned to football. And in the backyard of a journeyman college coach, Nix ran plays on a miniature football field painted in the grass.
When Patrick Nix wrapped up his collegiate coaching career and made the move to preps, it wasn’t long until other coaches started to realize what was waiting in the wings at Scottsboro High School when Bo joined in on practices with the team.
By midseason, the 15-year-old eighth-grader was starting for Scottsboro, passing for 681 yards, 10 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in five games.
“I had to be talked into it,” Patrick Nix said at the time. “We let him practice a lot. We let him take lots of reps with the first team. He just got better and better and showed that he could do it. I was very hesitant but the staff talked me into it and convinced me he was ready and he could do it.”
When Patrick took the head job at nearby Pinson Valley, Bo followed and together the Nix’s won a pair of 6A state titles as Bo became the first player in Alabama football history to amass 12,000 total yards in a career. He was a shoo-in for the 2018 Mr. Alabama award, beating Taulia Tagovailoa for the honor.
Dressed in a suit with accents of Auburn orange and navy, Nix talked of other quarterbacks, like Trevor Lawrence, who could make an impact in college right away.
“I hope I can go in and help my team with whatever it is,” Nix told reporters. “I know whenever my time comes I’ll be ready for it. But you never know when that day will come so you have to be ready.”
A headline in the Montgomery Observer nine months later before Nix’s 2019 debut against Oregon: “‘Not your normal freshman’: How Bo Nix achieved lifelong dream of becoming Auburn’s quarterback.”
Auburn beat the Ducks in Week 1 when Nix connected with Seth Williams for a 26-yard touchdown with 9 seconds remaining. And while the offense was up and down that freshman season, sitting in that locker room after the Iron Bowl was everything he’d envisioned.
Bo, you’ve won a couple of state championships. How does this win compare?
“Well,” Bo said. “This makes it three state championships I guess.”
So, what happened?
It’s a lot of things. It’s the three offensive coordinators and two head coaches in three seasons. It’s the turnovers and a penchant for trying to make something happen when it wasn’t there. It was the broken ankle that ended his 2021 season and the reality that no matter the heights he reached in an Auburn jersey, Nix would always be measured against what he was supposed to be.
Nix started 34 games at Auburn and won 21 of them, with much of the Tigers’ fanbase feeling the physically gifted but inconsistent quarterback wasn’t living up to his 5-star expectations. His name hitting the transfer portal in December of 2021 came as a surprise, but one not exactly greeted with disappointment in Auburn.
Change, it seemed, would be good for everyone.
“I think he has an opportunity to have a really big year somewhere under the right coach,” ESPN SEC commentator Paul Finebaum said on the radio. “Now, who is the right coach? Someone who can mirror his game. That was really his problem this year, he was playing in a system that didn’t really suit him. I would be really interested in a one-year proposition. I think the right coach could be very successful.”
Coincidently, Dan Lanning and Kenny Dillingham needed the right quarterback. As the new head coach and offensive coordinator at Oregon, the two knew the Ducks had a roster ready to run with the right director. Mario Cristobal’s four years of recruiting had stacked that side of the ball with one of the best offensive lines in football and a burgeoning line of talents at receiver.
They just needed someone to drive.
Dillingham, Auburn’s OC in 2019 as Gus Malzahn called the plays, knew a guy he wasn’t ready to give up on.
"When he got [to Auburn], he was forced to start as a true freshman on the road against one of the best teams in college football that year,” Dillingham said. “I think he was thrown in the fire probably a little too early. You can see that growth that he's made and it's pretty good."
Just before Christmas, Nix made it official: He was leaving everything he knew for the first time.
“I’ve made so many decisions for Auburn,” Nix said. “Now it’s time to do best for me.”
For a college football buff, Nix is just letting this season kind of happen. He doesn’t know much about Oregon’s rivalry with Washington, or how Eugene feels about Corvallis or what road trips on the schedule may require a jacket.
On Saturday, Nix leads his 8-1 Ducks against the 7-2 Huskies, a team described by Oregon’s last head coach as one that is “everything wrong with football.”
Nix is jacked.
“Everything is new and I get to have a unique perspective for everything and everything I see,” he says. “With this kind of rivalry, I’m just excited to be in it. I’m excited to play in it and see the atmosphere on game day and see the buzz around the complex and around here at the stadium. I think it’s going to be really exciting.”
Lately, Eugene hasn’t been able to get enough of Nix. He gets the loudest applause during introductions at Autzen Stadium and recently had a line for autographs at Matthew Knight Arena while taking in a basketball game with his wife.
After a pump-fake to start the season against Georgia, where Nix’s two interceptions brought a chorus of, “I told you so’s out of the woodwork, Nix has been one of, if not the best player in college football. Nix ranks sixth in Total QBR (88.3), second in completion rate (73.3%), first in yards per drop back (9.3) and is two rushing touchdowns away from breaking Marcus Mariota’s program record of 15 set during his Heisman season. Which, by the way, Nix’s season compares favorably.
“I don’t think anybody can sit here and watch football right now and watch our quarterback play and tell me he’s not an elite quarterback,” Lanning said after Nix produced five touchdowns in October’s 45-30 win over No. 9 UCLA. “This guy is playing at an extremely high level and he makes great decisions for our team.”
So, again: What happened?
It’s an offensive line that keeps him upright, a rushing attack averaging 200-plus yards per game and receivers like Troy Franklin pulling down the type of highlight reel catches not often seen around Eugene. It’s minimizing mistakes and being in complete sync with an offensive coordinator who trusts him enough to take control.
“He’s allowed me to have a little bit of leeway and go in there and be confident,” Nix says of Dillingham. “We’re on the same page of what he wants and what are good plays for our system.”
That system is leading the nation with 3.6 points per drive.
These are typically the type of seasons only reserved for the first-name guys in Oregon history. But there, again, is where Nix is different. Unlike Justin and Joey, a pair of in-state heroes, and Marcus, a diamond plucked out of the rough, Nix has no history here to contend with. There was no announcement bringing him back for his senior season, no pressure of seeing Autzen Stadium from his parents’ house after a loss. This week he gets to have a rivalry explained to him and not the other way around.
“There's a lot of guys who were born and raised here in Eugene or in Oregon that have told me a lot about it,” Nix says. “So I enjoy hearing those kinds of stories rather than looking it up and getting the internet stories.”
Nix says he spends most of his time off the internet, but the smile from earlier suggests he’s at least familiar with the online version of the Bo Nix experience. And he doesn’t shy away from much. He gave Auburn everything he had, he says, and will always consider himself a Tiger. He still has that game ball from the 2019 Iron Bowl, resting comfortably back home in Alabama.
His apartment in Eugene has room to add some hardware.
— Tyson Alger
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