He acknowledged that Alabama is the team to beat and it annually restocks with the nation’s best recruiting class.
“What I do like about this (Auburn) team is they have high expectations,” he said Thursday as the final coach to speak at SEC Media Days in Hoover. “Their goal is to win the SEC Championship. And to do that, you’ve got to beat Alabama. The last two times we beat them, we won the league and we played for the national championship, winning one of those and coming close to a second time.”
Auburn’s most valuable contributor this season might be new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. The Tigers’ shortcomings at quarterback – particularly at backup to repeatedly injured Sean White – left Auburn wanting the past two seasons.
Malzahn said he, his assistant coaches and players are more comfortable as the 2017 season draws near.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Chip,” Malzahn said. “He’s going to provide more balance for us. And he’s a quarterback guru, too. I feel very good about that.”
The head Tiger said Lindsey will have more pieces with which to work at signal-caller.
“Probably the thing I’m more excited about is we have quality depth at our quarterback position,” he said. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel the last two years. That gives me, I know our coaches and our players, comfort.”
Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham raised Tiger expectations with his offensive MVP showing in Auburn’s spring game. But Malzahn isn’t forgetting about White. When White is healthy, the head coach – who rated White’s health at 100 percent – said White plays at a high level.
“We’ve got two of the better quarterbacks,” Malzahn said. “And we got a young one in Malik Willis. That is a freshman that really caught my eye in the spring. The exciting thing for me is we’ve got depth.”
Asked if he might be tempted to call plays again, Malzahn said he’s learned some things in his time as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference. After making his name on the offensive side of the ball, he turned the reins over to his offensive coordinator last season and has since given that job to Lindsey.
“It’s gotten to a point where it’s tough to do both, be a coordinator and a head coach,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in Chip Lindsey. We come from the same tree; he was a high school coach. He was with me in 2013 as an off-the-field role. He’s a great quarterback developer and he inherited a pretty talented offense.”
Malzahn said the 2016 loss to Clemson was a missed opportunity. “We had them at home and just didn’t play well,” he said.
Auburn will be motivated for the rematch in Game 2 of 2017.
“That one’s early – the defending national champs, playing on the road – it’s going to be a huge game,” he said. “It’s going to be a huge game to really show where we’re at. Our players and our coaches are looking forward to it.”
Simply put, Malzahn said Auburn is hungry.
“When we went on that six-game winning streak, we felt like we had a chance to do something special last year (but) we weren’t able to do that,” he said. “I know our players are hungry, they’re motivated, they’ve got that chip on their shoulder. I really haven’t felt this way about a team since 2013.”