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January 8, 2014

Auburn ends season in defeat, but carries high hopes for the future

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. — The Auburn Tigers know there’s only one way to top this season.

The Tigers came within 13 seconds of completing the biggest turnaround in college football history, winning a national championship and slapping a triumphant ending on a fairytale season.

Instead, they were left with a 34-31 defeat to Florida State and contemplating next season’s mission.

“To finish it off,” tailback Tre Mason said. “Do whatever it takes to finish. We made it all the way here and we let up off the gas pedal. Next time we need to crank it up to another gear and finish this thing off right.”

It remains to be seen if the Heisman Trophy finalist and near-hero of the title game will be around to help bring that to fruition.

Mason is considering joining All-Southeastern Conference left tackle Greg Robinson in leaving early to enter the NFL draft. Robinson announced his decision on Tuesday.

Even if Mason turns pro, the Tigers (12-2) won’t be sneaking up on anybody after finishing with a No. 2 ranking.

With quarterback Nick Marshall leading the way, Auburn could well be regarded as an SEC and national title contender again.

Certainly, Gus Malzahn’s team raised the bar back to its perch from that 2010 national championship in his first season

“We’re going up,” Malzahn said. “The experience that we had and we’ve got most of our guys coming back, recruiting is going great. Our goal is to get back here, and I really believe we’ll do it.”

His uptempo offense set school marks for total and rushing yards and became the first SEC team to lead the nation in rushing.

The Tigers matched the 2000 Hawaii team for the biggest rebound after going 3-9 in 2012.

Jameis Winston dashed the Tigers’ title hopes with an 80-yard drive and 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left.

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