For the Auburn Tigers, it's been a year to forget, but not one to dismiss.
The lowlights of the season are hard to even acknowledge, especially considering this is a program that won the National Championship two years ago: Three wins (zero in the SEC), second-worst in the SEC in total offense, third-worst in total offense, 76th—which might even be generous—in Jerry Palm's BCS rankings.
Nonetheless, as hard as it is to believe, there have been some outstanding individual performances this year that should have the Tigers, who will bring in the No. 7 recruiting class in 2013, ready for a swift turnaround back to actual relevancy.
Let's take a look at the players who've continued to inspire some hope during this overall atrocious season.
Tre Mason, RB
Onterio McCalebb, although incredibly effective in his own right, didn't run away with the feature role like many at the beginning of the season thought he would.
That's alright, because McCalebb's limited workload simply created an opening for talented sophomore Tre Mason.
The 5'10", 198-pound back out of Lake Worth, FL, has carried the ball 150 times for 920 yards and eight touchdowns. That's an absurd 6.1 yards per carry (41st in the nation, although that's behind lots of quarterbacks or players with less touches) as the feature back behind a less than spectacular offensive line.
If Auburn's O-line improves or any resemblance of a threat is inserted under center, Mason is going to put up some silly numbers during his junior and senior seasons.
Jonathan Wallace, QB
During spring and summer camps and practices, all the talk about Auburn surrounded the quarterback battle between Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley.
The winner of that battle?
The freshman QB has completed 62.1 percent of his passes, which is just below Moseley's mark and far above Frazier's. Most importantly, though, he's actually shown the ability to move the ball down the field.
Wallace is averaging 9.83 yards per attempt while Frazier and Moseley sit right around six. Wallace has shown the ability to escape the pocket and use his legs to gain yards. Frazier and Moseley didn't. Wallace's touchdown-to-interception ratio (4-to-2) isn't puke-worthy. Frazier's and Moseley's is 3-to-11. Wallace's QB ratio is 158.7. Frazier and Moseley sit just above 100.
As the true freshman continues to mature, he's only going to become a more dangerous weapon for this offense.
Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier
The Tigers quietly sit in 56th place in the country in total sacks with 22. That may not seem like an impressive number, but considering the style and flow of the SEC, it's a much more sumptuous accomplishment.
How many games will Auburn win in 2013?
What's even better is that the two major pieces in making that happen will be returning next season.
Dee Ford, who ranks sixth in the SEC with six sacks, will be back as a fifth-year senior while Corey Lemonier, who has 5.5 sacks and 17 in his career, should also return unless the NFL comes calling.
If both men are back in 2013, the Tigers, along with the addition of Carl Lawson, are going to have a scary pass rush. That will instantly make the entire defense better.