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Auburn redshirt freshman quarterback Joey Gatewood watches his helmet roll away during the first spring scrimmage for the Tigers on March 30, when defenders were permitted to make contact with all four of the team's quarterbacks.

Auburn's recent run to its first NCAA Final Four in men's basketball has overshadowed Gus Malzahn's seventh spring as head football coach.

Things should return to normal this weekend.

The Tigers have the Southeastern Conference's most wide-open quarterback race in the quest to replace two-year starter Jarrett Stidham, who elected to bypass his final college season and enter the NFL draft. Junior Malik Willis, redshirt freshmen Joey Gatewood and Cord Sandberg and touted early enrollee Bo Nix have received equal opportunities in recent weeks and will be on stage Saturday afternoon at Auburn's A-Day game.

A-Day will be televised by the SEC Network and is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. EDT.

Malzahn didn't elaborate much on the battle after last Friday afternoon's scrimmage, the Tigers' second this spring. He briefly met with reporters before flying to Minneapolis to watch Auburn fall 63-62 to Virginia in Saturday's first national semifinal.

"They all got equal reps," Malzahn said. "I'm not ready to say anything about anyone starting to distance themselves."

Auburn held its 13th of 15 spring practices Wednesday.

Willis is a 6-foot-1, 195-pounder from Atlanta who served the past two seasons as Stidham's top backup, which included Auburn's 2017 run to the SEC West title and a No. 2 ranking before the loss to Georgia in the league championship game. He has appeared in 15 games, completing 11 of 14 passes for 69 yards and a touchdown and rushing 28 times for 309 yards (11.0 per carry) and a score.

The 6-5, 237-pound Gatewood is from St. Augustine, Florida, and was an early enrollee last year. His lone appearance this past season occurred late in the 63-14 drubbing of Purdue in the Music City Bowl, where he rushed three times for 28 yards on an offense that had no need to throw the ball.

Sandberg has the most unique jersey number — 24 — and the most unique backstory of the four competitors. The 6-3, 215-pounder from Bradenton, Florida, is the age of his jersey, having been drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2013 as an outfielder and reaching Double-A with that organization.

Like Gatewood, Sandberg got in one game last year, rushing three times for 55 yards and completing a 22-yard pass during the 63-9 dismantling of Alabama State in September.

Nix is the son of former Auburn quarterback Patrick Nix (1992-95) and set an Alabama state high-school record by accounting for more than 12,000 total yards during his career at Pinson Valley. The 6-2, 204-pounder guided Pinson Valley to consecutive Class 6A state titles and was a five-star signee.

All four quarterbacks were fair game for defenders during Auburn's scrimmage on March 30. Malzahn said they were off limits last Friday.

Whether the A-Day game will reveal a pecking order or a whittling down of candidates is not yet known, and Auburn's players haven't revealed much more info than Malzahn.

"We will have a dual-threat quarterback," senior defensive end Nick Coe told reporters. "A dual-threat quarterback gives a hard time to a lot of defenses, because they can't handle it."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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