BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is in a position he’s never been in as a head coach – entering the season with a returning starting quarterback.
But as Monday’s SEC Media Days kicked off, senior quarterback Nick Marshall, who was slated to make an appearance, was nowhere to be found. Marshall was cited for possession of marijuana last week, and the Tigers opted to bring senior tight end C.J. Uzomah in his place.
“Up until last Friday, Nick has been a model student, teammate and citizen,” Malzahn said. “Nick made a mistake and he’ll have to deal with the consequences. I’m not ready to say what those consequences are at this time, but he will deal with it.”
Marshall passed for 1,976 yards and rushed for 1,068 in 2013, becoming only the fourth SEC quarterback to run for over 1,000 yards.
“I think [Marshall] has improved a lot of his finesse. He’s not going to over-throw or under-throw us anymore,” Uzomah said. “He has had a lot more practice with the receivers, and that has helped him know where we are on the field so he can complete those throws.”
Auburn’s offensive arsenal returns largely intact from the group that took the field in 2013. Cameron Artis-Payne is the likely favorite to take over the reins in the backfield, and familiar targets in Sammie Coates and D’haquille Williams return as well.
Malzahn’s fast, no-huddle approach, which he began running in 1996, is something teams all across college football have started to adopt.
“I think if you look around the country, a lot of college teams are playing really fast. Really, if you look at the high school teams, the majority of the high school teams are around the country are spreading it out, playing fast.”
The Tigers open the season at home against the Arkansas Razorbacks, a team expected to be better in head coach Bret Bielema’s second season at the helm.
“We do have a lot of our guys back. We’re playing at home, but we really expect Arkansas to be much improved,” Malzahn said. “We know we’re going to have to play well.”
Auburn understands just how quickly a team can turn itself around. The Tigers went from worst to first in the SEC between 2012 and 2013 and are looking to build on past success this season. But it won’t be easy. With the target firmly planted on their backs, the Tigers will face South Carolina and Georgia from the SEC East, in addition to facing four bowl teams from 2013 in each SEC road game.
Despite the tough schedule, the Tigers are sure to be back in the national hunt. In the first year of the four-team playoff, the winner of the SEC will likely make it into the playoff.
“I think it’s safe to say the SEC Champion will be in the final four,” Malzahn said. “If you look at the last few years, numerous times there would be two teams from the SEC in the final four.”
Notables and quotables:
Auburn will likely be without sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson for much of the upcoming season. Malzahn says Lawson underwent successful ACL surgery in May.
- “Carl is working extremely hard and he’s determined to come back towards the end of this year,” Malzahn said.
Former Auburn standout Philip Lutzenkirchen passed away at the age of 23 early this month. Malzahn says the team plans to do something to remember Lutzenkirchen this season.
- “He had the ‘it’ factor. So that was definitely a tough blow to the Auburn family, Malzahn said. “But he’ll definitely be remembered and we’ll do some things to honor him for a long time to come.”
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