AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn coach Gus Malzahn didn't sleep in after returning from the BCS national championship game in California.
Instead, he arrived at the office early Wednesday morning like always and went right back to work. Coming up 13 seconds short of a title tends to be pretty motivating.
"The future's bright. That's what I told our team last night, that the groundwork's laid and the future's bright and we're looking forward," Malzahn said on Friday. "I'm excited. Once I get over the feeling of when you lose a championship game that close, you put that behind you and move forward. We'll work extremely hard to get back there and try to redeem ourselves.
"You're always looking for things to motivate you and that's a very motivating thing for me. That's the way I'm looking at it."
Malzahn repeatedly referred to Auburn's future as bright at his end-of-season news conference after the Tigers' 34-31 loss to Florida State on a touchdown with 13 seconds left. Indeed, even with tailback Tre Mason and left tackle Greg Robinson leaving early for the NFL draft, Auburn could enter next season with a Top 10 ranking.
Malzahn said Auburn's approach must be the same as players adopted coming in with low outside expectations this past season.
The Tigers will have eight starters back on offense, including quarterback Nick Marshall, and seven on defense.
"I can see them being national champs," Mason said.
The next goals are wrapping up a recruiting class currently rated in the Top 10 and keeping the coaching staff intact.
Malzahn said he expects to sign his new six-year contract "in the near future." He also has visited with athletic director Jay Jacobs about discussing new contracts for his assistant coaches.
"We've got one of the best staffs in college football and we'll do everything in our power to keep them together," Malzahn said.
He's also optimistic about the strides Marshall can make with considerably more time in the system. The junior college transfer directed the nation's top running offense and passed for 217 yards and two touchdowns against the Seminoles. Malzahn has never had a starting quarterback return as a college coach.
"We're very excited about the spring with Nick," Malzahn said. "We got a lot of information throughout the season, and we'll really go back and build around his strengths even more. What he did in one year, not going through spring and not winning the job until two weeks before the season, was phenomenal. I don't know if there's ever been a situation similar to that.
"I really think that his upside is very high. He's a natural leader."
Malzahn said that former starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier, who worked in the secondary and at receiver this season, is transferring for his final season to play quarterback elsewhere.
"He just felt like at this time he felt like he wanted to go somewhere and play quarterback," Malzahn said of the former USA Today national offensive player of the year. "We wish him the best. He's a winner and he'll do well."
Former tight end signee Ricky Parks is returning to the team as a walk on, Malzahn said. Parks was dismissed from the team in August 2013 for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
"He's walking on and we're going to give him an opportunity to prove himself," Malzahn said.