With last season in mind Auburn seeks to earn back respect in 2016

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Tyler Waldrep

After a disappointing 7-6 finish in 2015, it’s safe to say Auburn is ready for the new season to arrive, but the Tigers aren’t going to forget what happened last year.

“Last year has been the motivating factor for us because we didn’t like the way we played,” defensive lineman Carl Lawson said. “We didn’t like our record last year. Every game next year is one game at a time, same mentality. But last year has been the motivating factor for this team.”

For that reason the players picked a simple phrase the team could rally around for the upcoming season: earn it.

“We want to earn the players respect on our team, we want to earn the coaches respect, the fans, all of you guys and women [in the media],” defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “We want to earn y’all respect and we want to get Auburn back to where they should be.”

The Tigers will have plenty of chances to accomplish this goal at the beginning of the season, when the team plays its first five games at home including conference games against Arkansas, Texas A&M and LSU. Auburn also gets a visit from Clemson to start the season.

“We got a real schedule starting out. I would probably put our schedule up against anybody in college football, especially early,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “The fact that we are playing at home will do nothing but help us. We got in, my opinion, the best crowd in college football.”

Throughout his remarks Monday, Malzahn kept repeating that his team needs to do better in close games. The Auburn Tigers went 3-4 in games that were decided by eight points or less. The losses came against Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Georgia while the Tigers managed to beat Louisville, Jacksonville State and Kentucky in such contests.

Malzahn said there are plenty of reasons to believe Auburn can turn it around in 2016, starting with what he hopes a faster more efficient offense, but questions still remain at the quarterback position.

“[Freshman quarterback John Franklin] really won his teammates’ respect which is always important for a new guy coming in,” Malzahn said. “It’s very important to him. He’s a hard worker. The two older guys both are in a lot better spot than they were this time last year. Once we identify who our starter is, it gives us a best chance of winning. You will see us tweak our offense to build around their strengths.”

Regardless of which quarterback wins the job, the Tigers will still require a better performance from the players on the other side of the ball as well. Malzahn said the return of a game-changer like Lawson will help, as will the experience the returning players got last year.

“I think we got a chance to have one of the best, if not the best, defenses we’ve had at my time at Auburn, which I think is very important,” he said.