AUBURN, Ala. – The suddenly struggling Auburn Tigers will try to rebound against the coach who helped hire Gus Malzahn.
The 16th-ranked Tigers (7-3, No. 14 CFP) face FCS Samford (7-3) on Saturday night in a game more notable for who's on the opposing sideline than anything.
Bulldogs coach Pat Sullivan won the 1971 Heisman Trophy as Auburn's quarterback. He's so highly regarded by Malzahn that he had Sullivan speak to Auburn's team before the Southeastern Conference championship game last season.
He was also on the four-man search committee that hired Malzahn two years ago.
"He's one of the true class guys in college football," Malzahn said. "He's respected by everyone. I've never heard anybody say a bad word about him. He's definitely helped me. I lean on him from time to time with advice. He's an Auburn legend."
Malzahn and the Tigers won't have time for sentimentality once the game kicks off. Auburn was bumped from playoff contention with back-to-back losses to Texas A&M and No. 9 Georgia.
This should be a tuneup for the Iron Bowl against No. 2 Alabama. Auburn leads the series 26-0-1.
"Auburn is very talented and well coached in every area," Sullivan said. "You can see why they were ranked in the top five for most of the year. They are one of the premier teams in the country."
The toughest part of playing at Auburn for him has nothing to do with nostalgia, but the competition.
"Playing against great players and coaches," Sullivan said.
Here are some things to watch in the Samford-Auburn game:
HOME FINALE: Auburn has 27 seniors playing their final game at Jordan-Hare Stadium, including quarterback Nick Marshall, tailback Cameron Artis-Payne, center Reese Dismukes, defensive tackle Gabe Wright and three starting defensive backs. Most of the group has been through a 3-9 season two years ago before playing for a national title in 2013.
JEREMY'S CHANCE? If Auburn can get ahead, this might be a chance for backup quarterback and Marshall's heir apparent Jeremy Johnson to get some playing time. More of a pure passer than Marshall, Johnson has been effective every time he's been on the field but his five passes against Georgia were the first he had thrown in five games.
FAMILIAR FOES: Besides Sullivan, there are other ties between the two teams. Samford running backs coach Kodi Burns is a former starting quarterback at Auburn who finished his career at wide receiver on the 2010 national championship team. Tigers offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee held the same post for the Bulldogs in 2011. Samford visited Auburn that season, when Malzahn was the offensive coordinator, and had a respectable showing in a 35-16 loss.
AUBURN'S OFFENSE: The Tigers had the worst offensive showing of Malzahn's tenure in the 34-7 loss to Georgia. Defense has been Samford's strength with Sullivan's team shutting out three opponents this season.
EUBANK'S BIG STAGE: Samford relies on a number of transfers from FBS programs. That list includes quarterback Michael Eubank, an Arizona State transfer who's also second on the team in rushing.