Auburn took away some of the distractions out of the Distraction Bowl.
The Peach Bowl looked like a matchup with a pair of coaches in Central Florida’s Scott Frost and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn whose futures were in the spotlight. However, late Sunday, a person familiar with the situation told the AP that Malzahn has agreed to a new seven-year deal to remain at the school.
The person spoke of the deal on condition of anonymity Sunday because it hadn’t been officially announced.
That should end any ongoing debate about Malzahn, who faced questions about whether he’d stay with the Tigers or move on to Arkansas where he was considered a target for that job. The questions for Frost, introduced as Nebraska’s new coach Sunday, and his bowl role with the Knights will continue.
The undefeated, 10th-ranked Knights (12-0, No. 12 College Football Playoffs) will play No. 7 Auburn (10-3, No. 7 CFP), the Southeastern Conference runner-up, on Jan. 1.
Frost was hired by Nebraska shortly after UCF won a 62-55, double overtime shootout with Memphis to capture the American Athletic Conference. Frost was introduced Sunday as Cornhuskers coach and reiterated that he would coach the Knights in the bowl game. “I don’t want to leave the players down there without a coach,” he said. “They deserve to have the best chance they possibly can, especially in a bowl game they qualified for.”
Malzahn’s team fell to playoff-bound Georgia in the SEC title game Saturday and there were plenty of postgame questions about his plans.
Malzahn was steadfast and firm that he would stay at Auburn. “That’s where I want to be,” he reiterated Sunday.
Malzahn has done well keeping outside talk away from the Tigers, said Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson.
“If you know Gus, he doesn’t even look at outside noise,” Johnson said after Georgia’s 28-7 victory. “He’s about as one-tracked minded as it gets. That man was focused on winning the SEC championship.”
Frost, the former Nebraska quarterback, couldn’t hide his decision from his players, and the team tweeted a celebration photo after its AAC title win with the caption: “Good luck back home, Coach.”
UCF interim coach Troy Walters said Saturday was an emotional day, one of great joy with the championship win and sadness after learning of Frost’s departure. “It was a whirlwind,” Walters said.
But the players gathered Sunday to watch the selection show and were re-energized, Walters said, with the Peach Bowl selection.
“This team is resilient,” Walters said. “We’re not going to make any excuses.”
Athletic director Danny White said Saturday night that Frost and his staff are committed to the team. “And we’ll figure out what that means later this week,” White said during a news conference Saturday night.
Here’s some of what to know about the Peach Bowl matchup:
Including UCF, Auburn’s most recent three opponents in Alabama, Georgia and the Knights have a combined mark of 35-2.
The Knights have gone from bowl wannabes to part of the New Year’s Six during Frost’s tenure. The second-year coach took over an 0-12 program and won six games his first year. This season, UCF has been one of college football’s biggest surprises.
Auburn is 3-0 against UCF with all three wins coming between 1997 and 1999.
RETURNING TO MERCEDES
The Tigers will finish their season with a second straight game in Atlanta’s new Mercedes Benz Stadium, where they lost to Georgia 28-7 in the SEC title game. Malzahn said his team will focus on playing better there against UCF then they did against the Bulldogs.
IN THE MIX
UCF interim coach Troy Walters said he hopes to be among candidates to replace Frost. Walters joined the program two seasons ago as offensive coordinator and receivers coach. He’s also coached at Colorado, North Carolina State and Texas A&M. Walters, though, had faith in athletic director Danny White to make the right hire to keep the Knights moving forward.