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Malzahn compares 2017 team to 2013 squad


Brett Hudson



HOOVER, Ala. -- Since winning the national championship in 2010, the Auburn football team hasn't been as close that peak as it was in 2013. Two last-minute wins and a convincing victory in the Southeastern Conference championship game sent Auburn to the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) Championship Game, where it lost to No. 1 Florida State 34-31. 


The coach of that team, Gus Malzahn, sees similarities in his current one. He referred to those similarities Thursday at SEC Media Days. 


"The biggest similarities I see from that team is how hungry they are," Malzahn said. "In that 2013 team, they went through a storm the year before (going 3-9, which included a 49-0 loss to Alabama in the Iron Bowl). They were embarrassed. They wanted to redeem themselves. They had that edge to them that just brought everybody together and just do that little extra more that it takes, and they were an extremely close team. 


"We weren't happy the way we finished, so those guys had that chip on their shoulder of rebounding. We got to redeem ourselves." 


Auburn beat Alabama 34-28 in the regular-season finale. It then defeated Missouri 59-42 to win the SEC title.  


In the BCS title game, Tre Mason broke Bo Jackson's single-season rushing record when he scored on a 37-yard run with 1 minute, 19 seconds remaining to give Auburn a 31-27 lead. But Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner, threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining for the clinching score in the Rose Bowl.  




Raves about Stidham 


Having tried and failed to sign him twice, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin knows Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham will be a success at his new home. 


Stidham, who transferred from Baylor following the scandal that resulted in coach Art Briles' firing, has drawn more attention than most returning starters in the league. Sumlin sees good reason behind it. 


"Jarrett's a very, very talented player," Sumlin said. "I hope he doesn't play the deep ball well against us, but he's a very talented young man. 


"He's going to be successful. It's just a matter of when and what time. He brings a lot to the table as a guy that can move around a little bit, but a guy that's highly accurate and can throw it." 


Malzahn loves Stidham's versatility. 


"In our league, you have to escape. Things are going to break down," Malzahn said. "The defensive lines are too good. We had a chance to really evaluate him in the spring. Our defensive line is pretty talented, so we got a lot of good information, and we like the way he reacted, too." 


Malzahn said quarterback Sean White is healthy and should provide plenty of competition. Freshman Malik Willis gives Malzahn depth at quarterback he finds "comforting." 


Said Auburn offensive lineman Braden Smith, "They're both really great quarterbacks. It's great we have the depth at quarterback we didn't quite have the last couple of years. Whoever prevails, I'm comfortable with both of them." 




Coming out of his shell 


The development of Smith on Auburn's offensive line has been more than physical. Malzahn said he now can get more than a few words from Smith. 


"The first two years Braden was at Auburn, I would get short answers, you know, and sometimes maybe just a grunt," Malzahn said. "He has really come a long way from a leadership standpoint. The fact that he's here (at Media Days) and wanted to come be a part and represent Auburn, I think that says a lot about him as a person." 


Said Smith, "When I first came here, I didn't know anybody and I was kind of reserved. I've always been a talkative dude. They just didn't realize that until they got to know me." 




Alabama, Ole Miss players named to watch lists 


Alabama senior linebacker Rashaan Evans, junior defensive backs Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison and junior defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne joined Ole Miss senior defensive lineman Marquis Haynes on the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which was announced Thursday by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). 


The five are among 103 candidates from around the country named to the preseason list. Fourteen players from the SEC were named to the list. 


Jonathan Allen became the first Alabama recipient of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in 2016. 


The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce five finalists Nov. 16. The Nagurski Trophy winner will be chosen from those five finalists. 


Also, Alabama senior center Bradley Bozeman, junior defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne and sophomore offensive lineman Jonah Williams and Ole Miss sophomore Greg Little were named to the watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation's top interior lineman. 


They are among 81 candidates named to the list. Alabama's Chris Samuels (1999), Andre Smith (2008), Barrett Jones (2011), and Cam Robinson (2016) have won the award. 


The list includes 24 offensive tackles, 21 defensive tackles, 19 centers, and 17 offensive guards. Eleven players from the SEC were selected. 


The list will be trimmed to six or seven semifinalists Nov. 15. Six days later, three Outland Trophy finalists will be named by the FWAA. 


Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson 




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