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'You've got to earn every victory' - Auburn's Gus Malzahn at ESPN's Car Wash
Gus Malzahn on SportsCenter at ESPN's Car Wash.
July 18, 2016

By Jeff Shearer
AuburnTigers.com

BRISTOL, Conn. - He departed Auburn at 4:30 a.m., destination ESPN.

More than thirteen hours later, Gus Malzahn was back home on the Plains, but not before making 18 stops during ESPN’s famed Car Wash.

SportsCenter, social media, radio, podcasts, photo sessions, interviews with beat writers. Even a game of Cornhole (or Tiger Toss, as it’s known at Auburn tailgates).

He talked expectations, the opener against Clemson, quarterback competition, the College Football Playoff, and life in the rugged SEC West.

“It starts with the West,” Malzahn said. “You’ve got to win the West, which is the toughest division in college football. You’ve got to win close games. That’s our goal every year before the season starts.”

It’s hard to argue with the coach’s assessment that the West is best. Western Division teams have won seven straight SEC Championship games.

“The difference in the West and a lot of leagues is, every week you’re capable of playing a Top 25 team, and most of the time, that’s what it is,” he said. “You’ve got to earn every victory. Whoever survives coming out of the West has a realistic chance of winning the whole thing.”

Reporters at SEC Media Days picked Auburn to finish 6th in the West. Malzahn pointed out that Auburn’s most recent conference championship teams, 2010 and 2013, both surprised the pundits.

 

 

“The good thing is, we have experience back,” he said. “We have guys who went through the tough times. They’re extremely motivated. We had a very good offseason. Our guys are looking to rebound.”

He’s counting on Auburn’s upperclassmen to make it happen.

“A key for us is leadership,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got strong leadership. Our leaders have probably taken more charge of their team than at any time I’ve been at Auburn. That’s a good thing. They’re accountable to each other, and not just to coaches. I know that will help us come Saturdays in the fall.”

Malzahn was asked about his pregame routine, starting on Fridays.

“The night before a game, I’m in work mode,” Malzahn said. “I’m just focused on the meetings. Making sure we give our players the proper information. To make sure all of our coaches are on the same page. And just really trying to get prepared for the next day.”

When gameday arrives, the coach tries to stay one or two decisions ahead.

“The tunnel, I’m just thinking about the coin flip,” he said. “Thinking about the first series, whether it’s offense or defense. Just really trying to think ahead as far as the game goes, once I’m in the tunnel.”

Malzahn shed insight on his coin toss strategy.

“Every game is different. If you’re strong on offense, a lot of times you want to take the ball, especially on the road,” he said. “A lot of times weather has to do with that, and the wind has to do with that, too. If you’re good on defense, you usually defer. If you’re good on offense, you usually take the ball.”

ESPN’s inquiring minds wanted to discuss Auburn’s in-state rivalry.

“The Iron Bowl is an unbelievable rivalry,” Malzahn said. “It’s something that people in our state look forward to 365 days a year. That week is always a big week. Something I’m sure both teams look forward to.

“You don’t have to worry about motivation that week,” he said. “You just try to make sure you’re prepared. All aspects of the game. Usually, it’s a close game. It usually goes down to the end. You’re always just trying to prepare your team for those last-minute, and last-play situations.”

Malzahn laid out his criteria for which four teams are deserving of inclusion in the College Football Playoff.

“I think winning your league, first. I think playing well late in the year. I think how you play against top opponents, strength of schedule, all of that is considered.”

When those factors are weighed, Malzahn argued, the Southeastern Conference moves to the front of the pack.

“I think you’ve got to be realistic,” he said. “You’ve got to take into account someone’s schedule, someone’s league. The thing that is different in our league than others, especially in the West, you’re capable of playing a Top 25 opponent every week just in the league. It’s survival of the fittest. That has to be considered, and I expect the former coaches on the committee definitely understand that, that our league is like no other.”

With preseason camp beginning in two weeks, Malzahn ended his time at the Car Wash by discussing Auburn’s season opener against Clemson on Sept. 3rd.

“We’ve got a great home-field advantage, and it’s going to be a fun game.”

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter:

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