The SEC Media Days are wrapping up today at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham in Hoover, with Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers taking their turn in the spotlight, along with the Ole Miss Rebels and South Carolina Gamecocks.
Since Auburn’s unexpected 2013 run, which included shocking Alabama in the thrilling “Kick-Six” Iron Bowl and a close loss to Florida State in the BCS Championship game, the Tigers have struggled to duplicate the success of Malzahn’s first season at helm. The hot seat seems to have cooled somewhat for the offensive-minded head coach, as his team went a solid 8-5 in 2016, despite a brutal schedule that included the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers.
Malzahn appeared to have found his quarterback in Sean White last season, but questions about his health and the arrival of ex-Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham mean that White’s position as the starter is no guarantee. Regardless of who is under center, if the Tigers don’t pose a legitimate challenge to LSU and Alabama in 2017, Malzahn will likely face questions about his future again.
Three senior players will be joining Malzahn as player representatives, leaders who the coach will count on to help build on the momentum of last season.
Daniel Carlson, K, has been a steady presence on Auburn’s special teams, the two-time Lou Groza Award finalist’s 83.1 career field goal percentage is fourth in SEC history. Over the course of his career, the senior has scored 354 points, which includes 141 consecutive PATs and eight FG of 50 yards or more.
Since earning the starting job in 2015, DB Tray Matthews has been a tackling machine, leading the team in that category in 2016 with 76. A leader in the backfield, Auburn will be counting on Matthews help slow down opposing teams offenses, and get Malzahn’s spread offense back on the field.
Second Team All-American right guard Braden Smith is a key part of an offense that loves to run the ball and move quickly down the field. He’s not only been an anchor on the offensive line, with 27 consecutive starts since 2014, but excels as student off the field as well, as he was named to SEC Academic Honor Roll.
The expectations are always high on the Plains, but anything less than winning the SEC West may make the powers that be question whether Gus Malzahn can ever duplicate the success of his first year.
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