By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. -- The phrase "the future is bright" was uttered time and again last week from Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
It didn't feel that way in the home locker room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday night, but players move on -- probably faster than most fans do -- and when they were asked about the future of the program, gloom quickly turned into hope. There was a sense of optimism, almost excitement in their voices.
"One game doesn't change the way you feel about the future," defensive tackle Dontavius Russell said. "We have a lot of players, and we have a lot of talent. So I feel like the future is bright, and I don't think one game defines a team. It's just one game."
"I believe that next year we'll be back here," running back Kam Martin said, referring to the SEC championship game. "I believe it in my heart. We have the right tools, the right pieces."
Malzahn believes it, too. On Saturday after the game, he said as much.
"I'm happy at Auburn," the fifth-year coach said. "We have great players. I love my players. As I said before this game, we worked extremely hard to get here to this point. We've got a very good foundation built, and I think the best is yet to come.
"I believe we're going to be back."
On Sunday, the day after the SEC championship game, Malzahn backed up what he had been saying for the past week as he and university officials agreed to the broad outlines of a new contract that will keep him in Auburn for the foreseeable future and give him plenty of opportunities to get his team back to Atlanta at the end of the year.
"Strength and stability go hand-in-hand, and we have both in Coach Malzahn," Auburn President Steven Leath said in a statement. "We're excited for the future of Auburn football. This means a lot to the Auburn family."
Malzahn and Auburn officials expect to finalize details in the contract extension within a few days, but if there was any question about Malzahn's commitment to Auburn, he spent Sunday on the recruiting trail making in-home visits with top targets.
The future is bright. He's just trying to make it brighter.
As it stands, there's a lot to be excited about if you're an Auburn fan. Coming off a year in which the Tigers beat both Georgia and Alabama during the regular season and will play in a New Year's Six bowl, they could return up to seven starters on offense and eight starters on defense.
"Obviously, we've got another game this year, but moving forward after this season, we've got a lot of guys coming back offensively," quarterback Jarrett Stidham said. "Skill-wise, everybody is coming back. The future's bright. We've got a lot of great guys coming in, and we're going to continue to recruit a lot of guys."
In terms of recruiting, Auburn currently has the No. 9 class nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. If it stands, that would make six straight top-10 classes for Malzahn and his staff.
The future at Auburn is bright, indeed.
"We've got every opportunity to be whatever we want to be," running back Kerryon Johnson said. "We just have to get our mindset back to how we got it this year, playing every game like it's your last. That's the challenge for any team going into every year. But talent-wise, we have it all there.
"This is Auburn. Auburn is going to be great as long as it exists. They're going to get players. They're going to get coaches. You just have to go out and do it."
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: