In 2013, Auburn was coming off a 3-9 finish that left the program in tatters. Malzahn, returning to the Tigers as the head coach, and his staff had to earn the trust of the players, even though most of them knew Malzahn from his time as their offensive coordinator (2009-11).
This year, the Tigers are coming off a 12-2 season. Most of us see that as 12 wins and two losses. Malzahn is holding a different lens. He sees that as 13 seconds short of a BCS championship, and one job left painfully undone.
When he says he wants nothing to change, he means that he wants his players to maintain the same hunger they brought a year ago, when they climbed from the bottom of college football back to the top.
"It will be a memory, a positive memory we will have for the rest of our lives as players and as a group," Malzahn said. "But when you're that close, and as a coach, you're always looking for things to motivate you. I am extremely motivated. Our players are extremely motivated."
Senior center Reese Dismukes enrolled in winter 2011, while the campus still reveled in the euphoria of the Tigers' national championship. He saw the program slide to the bottom in two years, and he has seen it climb back. He's not all that interested in being patted on the back for coming up one rung short.
"We don't really look at it like that," Dismukes said. "... We didn't win it, obviously. You want to win. You just have that fire in you. You want to get back to that big stage. As hard as it is in this league, you're going to have to work even harder than you did before."
Maybe Malzahn is on to something. How do you repeat a season when you beat your two biggest rivals on last-minute miracles in consecutive games? You don't. Malzahn and the Tigers are braced for a re-entry into the real world.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Jimbo Fisher needed four seasons to lead Florida State back to the top of the sport, where the Seminoles signed a long-term lease in the 1990s. It was not an easy climb. As seamlessly as Fisher took control of the program from then-coach Bobby Bowden, the Seminoles had their guts wrenched on the way to the top. Now that they have proven Florida State is the best again, the Seminoles are counting on the memory of their disappointment in 2012 to propel them this season.
"Are we going to fall off like we did [my freshman] year?" defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said.
Edwards said the upperclassmen remember losing a 16-0 lead in the second half at NC State in 2012. The defense remembers allowing the Wolfpack to convert three fourth downs on the final drive, the winning touchdown scored on the last one with 16 seconds to play.
Florida State has won 15 consecutive ACC games since that loss. It has won 16 consecutive games overall. There are a lot of reasons to feel self-satisfied.
How will the Seminoles beat complacency? Do they, even with 14 returning starters, understand the forces that will be pulling at them? Last month, quarterback Jameis Winston illustrated once again that his toughest opponent stares at him in the mirror.