Malzahn received 33 first-place votes by AP voters, finishing well ahead of Duke's David Cutcliffe (17 votes), who finished second. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and Mark Dantonio of Michigan State each received three votes.
"It's very humbling," Malzahn said. "Any time you get awards like this, it's a team thing, as far as our staff and our players. It's been fun to be a part of this year."
Cutcliffe led Duke to its first double-digit-winning season and ACC Coastal Division championship in school history en route to earning a Chick-fil-A Bowl berth. Dantonio was at the helm for the Spartans' first outright Big Ten championship since 1987. Fisher's Seminoles will play Malzahn's Tigers in the BCS National Championship Game on Jan. 6.
Despite the strong competition, Malzahn's receipt of this award was considered a virtual lock. He had already taken home the Home Depot Coach of the Year, Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year and Sporting News Coach of the Year awards. The SEC also honored Malzahn with its coaching equivalent.
Malzahn is the second coach in Auburn history to win the AP award, which has been given every year since 1998. Tommy Tuberville won the award in 2004, when the Tigers finished 13-0 and controversially missed out on a national championship game berth.
Thanks to a brilliant season-ending run and some good fortune, the Tigers wouldn't be left out in the cold this time around. Auburn took down top-ranked Alabama on an all-time-great field-goal return from Chris Davis as time expired, and then a week later capped off its regular season with a 59-42 defeat of Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
Coupled with a loss by then-undefeated Ohio State, the 12-1 Tigers burrowed their way into the title game to take on undefeated Florida State.
The title game berth comes just a year after one of the worst seasons in Auburn history. Under Malzahn mentor Gene Chizik, with whom the Tigers won a national title just two years prior, the team went 3-9 and lost all eight of its games within the conference. While Chizik's ouster was met with approval from nearly every Auburn alum and booster, Malzahn's hiring at the time was considered far more controversial.
The offensive coordinator under Chizik, some understandably wondered what Malzahn could possibly do better. Auburn's offense sputtered toward the bottom of the FBS in 2012, and the two coaches obviously share some terminology.
But Malzahn built the team in his image, employing a high-speed, run-based offense that took college football by storm. The Tigers averaged an FBS-high 335.7 rushing yards per game during the regular season. Running back Tre Mason rushed for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns en route to finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
Malzahn will arguably face his fiercest competition yet in the Seminoles. Led by Heisman winner Jameis Winston, Florida State has won every game by at least two touchdowns and ranks first in the FBS in defense, allowing just 10.7 points per game.
That test comes in a couple weeks. For now, Malzahn gets to celebrate one of the quickest rebuilds in recent history one more time.
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