The Auburn defense got a big boost this week when star senior defensive linemen Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson announced they would play with their teammates in the Outback Bowl instead of sitting it out and protecting their status and health heading into the NFL Draft.
Brown's decision didn't surprise Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who already saw both return for their senior seasons this year when they could have easily entered the NFL Draft, where they were both projected to go in the early rounds.
"It says a lot about (Brown), but it didn't surprise me," said Malzahn. "I don't think it surprised anybody. I mean, that's who he is and he's one of the best football players in all of college football.
"He's determined and he's a leader, and usually what happens when your leader does that, you know, the rest of the guys are ready to go and it's pretty inspiring for his teammates."
Brown's move inspired Davidson to follow his lead and return for one more gridiron battle with his teammates.
"I'm all locked in for Auburn," said Davidson. "Shoot, Derrick coming back, that said everything. Just to see a guy like that, that type of caliber of player that he is, you want to play with that guy one more time, for sure.
"I'm pretty sure that Minnesota is not going to like it, but ... just playing with that guy, man, it's very special. He's a very special talent. There's no reason why he shouldn't be the first overall pick."
Mock drafts consistently show Brown being taken in the top 10 picks of the draft, with Davidson typically getting a second-round draft grade.
It's fitting that the duo will get to wreak havoc on the field together one more time after doing it all year long in the SEC, where they combined to win seven linemen of the week honors on their way to being named to the All-SEC first-team. Brown also picked up first team All-American honors, as well as being named the winner of the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is presented by Ronnie Lott to the defensive player who made the biggest impact on their team. IMPACT stands for "integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity."
"I know what the game can do for me," said Brown on prioritizing being successful on and off the football field. "I have a passion for the game, but I also have a passion for helping people."
Brown and Davidson will have the opportunity to face a Minnesota offensive line that has given up 30 sacks on the season, including 12 against the three ranked opponents the Golden Gophers have faced.
In contrast, only one SEC team gave up more than 30 sacks, with Auburn only allowing 16.
Davidson leads the Tigers with 7.5 sacks this season, with Brown second on the team with four. The two have also combined for 25 tackles for a loss.
No. 12 Auburn and No. 18 Minnesota will face off in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa at noon on Jan. 1. The game will be televised on ESPN.