HOOVER, Ala. - It's been several months since Auburn's dramatic run to the 2013 Southeastern Conference football championship, and the two biggest plays seem to have found their place in Tigers lore.
The 73-yard pass from Nick Marshall to Ricardo Louis on fourth-and-18 to subdue Georgia was something else, but ...
"The Alabama game was definitely better," Auburn senior tight end C.J. Uzomah said Monday as the SEC's annual media days opened. "Ricardo's catch meant a lot to me with me being from Georgia. It was the best thing ever, and I'm going to brag about that one forever no matter what.
"But to win the most unbelievable game in college football history -- I'm getting chills about that right now."
Auburn is turning the page from its 12-2 surprise season, but the journey hit a rough patch last Friday when Marshall was cited for having less than an ounce of marijuana in Reynolds, Ga. Marshall was scheduled to be one of three player representatives at media days but "lost that privilege," according to coach Gus Malzahn, who sent Uzomah instead.
Marshall is among the league's top preseason Heisman Trophy candidates after accounting for 26 touchdowns last season and becoming just the fourth quarterback in league history to rush for more than 1,000 yards. The SEC named him offensive player of the week on three occasions.
"Up until last Friday, Nick has been a model student, teammate and citizen," Malzahn said of the senior who was dismissed from Georgia earlier in his career. "Nick made a mistake, and he'll have to deal with the consequences. I'm not ready to say what those consequences are at this time, but he will deal with it.
"I know he's regretful, and he feels very bad about it."
Should Marshall get suspended, sophomore Jeremy Johnson could take the reins for the season opener against visiting Arkansas. Malzahn was quick to point out that Johnson was SEC freshman offensive player of the week on two occasions.
Auburn's players answered countless questions Monday about Marshall and remained very supportive.
"I called him and asked if there was any way I could help him out," senior center Reese Dismukes said. "He's been nothing but a great piece of this fun journey we've been on this past year. With what Nick did after coming in here three weeks before camp is just unheard of."
Said Uzomah: "Our trust in him hasn't faltered at all, and our faith in him is as strong as it's been. He made a mistake, and Coach Malzahn will address it. He'll get back on track."
Even if Marshall swiftly recovers from Friday's stumble, the Tigers still have to replace a key quartet from last season's conference champs: tailback Tre Mason, left tackle and No. 2 overall NFL draft pick Greg Robinson, defensive end Dee Ford and cornerback and Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis. Another defensive end, Carl Lawson, suffered an ACL tear late in spring practice and is working to get back on the field by the second half of the season.
The schedule is daunting, with an early-season trip to Kansas State and SEC East matchups with South Carolina and Georgia in addition to the SEC West challenges.
"Last year, we weren't on anybody's radar," Malzahn said. "We snuck up on a lot of people. This year we know we're going to be circled, and we've talked about that with our players."
Malzahn said having the entire coaching staff back is advantageous. He added that his Tigers spent spring practice looking to become more balanced on offense and more consistent on defense.
Having the architect of last season's turnaround has to be considered advantageous as well.
"Coach Malzahn has a way of changing things up," Dismukes said, "so who knows what we'll see. I think we've got good players. We obviously did last year."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.