Auburn already looking to finish season stronger

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers are looking for a better finish — from the start.

The Tigers flirted with a playoff berth in 2017, beat the two national championship game participants — and lost their final two games for the second straight season.

So even in early August, after Friday's opening practice of preseason camp, there was still talk about scripting a better ending.

"We just want to finish," wide receiver Ryan Davis said. "We didn't like the way we ended the season. We still have a bad taste in our mouths. We just want to win those tough, close games that are not in Jordan-Hare (Stadium)."

Auburn beat Georgia and Alabama at home last season, only to get whipped 28-7 in a rematch against the Bulldogs in the Southeastern Conference championship game. A win likely would have put the Tigers into the playoffs.

The Tigers dropped a second straight game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, falling to unbeaten UCF in the Peach Bowl.

They're trying to avoid strike three in the opener against Pac-12 favorite Washington back in Atlanta.

"It's been a pretty motivating offseason the whole time," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "The fact that we do have a lot of leaders back and they've kept that in front of their teammates and our coaches, how we felt about being that close and the disappointment and all that goes with it."

Two years ago, Auburn ended with losses to Alabama and to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

Auburn, which returns 13 starters, must replace SEC offensive player of the year Kerryon Johnson at tailback. The Tigers have had a 1,000-yard rusher in nine straight seasons.

Kam Martin is the presumed front-runner going into the season with some less experienced players behind him.

The Tigers are picked to finish second in the SEC West behind defending national champ Alabama.

A big reason for that optimism is the return of quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The Tigers haven't had the same starting QB two seasons in a row since Nick Marshall in 2013 and 2014.

Stidham was limited in the spring while recovering from surgery on his left, non-throwing shoulder but has a full season in Auburn's offense.

"It felt very comfortable," Malzahn said. "He knows the offense inside and out. He knows the adjustments. It just feels different than it did last year because there was still a learning curve. I think he's in a good spot going into this season."

NOTABLE: The Tigers signed 23-year-old freshman quarterback Cord Sandberg on Tuesday. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder spent the last six years playing professional baseball in the Phillies organization and is expected to miss the first couple of practices because his brother is getting married. "He hasn't played in a long time but he's a really smart kid and he was a very, very good high school quarterback," Malzahn said. ... Wide receivers Eli Stove and Will Hastings, who both sustained knee injuries in the spring, wore orange, non-contact jerseys. Malzahn said they're progressing well but he doesn't have a timetable for their return.


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