Malzahn, No. 7 Auburn set to begin Peach Bowl preparations
By JOHN ZENOR, AP Sports Writer
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — Flush with a new long-term deal, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn likes where his program stands long-term and where the Tigers are headed in the near future.
Malzahn’s seventh-ranked Tigers are set to begin preparation Friday for the Peach Bowl against No. 10 UCF (12-0, No. 12 College Football Playoffs) in their second straight New Year’s Day bowl game. He got a seven-year deal after being courted by Arkansas, his home state team, and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is also expected to stay put after interviewing for the head coaching job at Tennessee.
The Volunteers hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt instead.
“Any time you have stability, especially in this day and time in college football, I think it gives you an advantage,” Malzahn said Wednesday in a news conference with Peach Bowl officials. “We’ve got a very stable program right now. The future’s very bright. I think it does nothing but help.”
Auburn hasn’t released the details of his new contract. It was negotiated with President Steven Leath since athletic director Jay Jacobs is stepping down after his successor is hired.
The Tigers (10-3, No. 7) return to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where they lost 28-7 to No.3 Georgia in the Southeastern Conference championship game with a playoff spot on the line. They’ll also open there next season against Washington.
Auburn won the last five games of the regular season, including double-digit victories over playoff-bound Georgia and Alabama. The Tigers didn’t fare nearly so well in the rematch with the Bulldogs with injuries hitting tailback Kerryon Johnson and key defenders Carlton Davis and Tre’ Williams.
“We had three emotional and physical games down the stretch that we just had to figure out a way to overcome,” Malzahn said. “I will tell you this, our team will learn from that game. A chance to play another game in the same arena I think is big. Our team will be extremely hungry and that’s exciting to me.”
The Tigers will be once again without tailback Kamryn Pettway, who remains out with a fractured shoulder blade. He said he’ll know more about the status of Johnson’s injured right shoulder and other players recovering from injuries once bowl practice starts. He said Johnson didn’t require surgery.
Malzahn does appear to have some stability on his staff. Steele is approaching the final year of a three-year, $3.6 million deal. Malzahn said offensive line coach Herb Hand, whose contract expires in January, will also be back.
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