Auburn Football: Predicting Tigers' Top Rusher in 2013

Chris StephensCorrespondent IIDecember 30, 2012

Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne will be the leading rusher for the Auburn Tigers in 2013.

After the Tigers struggled in all phases of offense, changes were made across the board.

One of those struggles was running the ball (148.4 yards per game), as it was obvious the Tigers lacked size in the backfield.

Now, Gus Malzahn returns to the Plains as the head coach, and the Tigers look to improve in all areas of the game, especially the running game.

While there will be changes in the passing game as well, Malzahn knows the Tigers have to get the rushing attack going. If they don't, then the Tigers won't have any success throwing the ball.

That's where Artis-Payne comes in for 2013.

Artis-Payne rushed for 2,048 yards and 24 touchdowns last year for Allan Hancock Community College (Calif.).

He brings a big, physical toughness to the Tigers, something they lacked last year.

Auburn is going to run a two-back set that will feature Artis-Payne as the power back and Tre Mason as the speed back. Malzahn had a lot of success using it when he was the offensive coordinator at Auburn, and there's no reason to believe he won't again.

He has the maturity of having played college football for two years and is enrolling early. Combine those two with his playmaking ability and you have the ingredients for a successful first-year back.

Artis-Payne still has to earn the starting spot. After his success in junior college, there's no reason to believe he won't start the season opener.

However, what about the other running backs on the roster?


Tre Mason

Mason was the leading rusher for the Tigers last year with 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns. Outside of his 102-yard performance against Clemson, Mason failed to reach 100 yards against FBS competition.

His struggles were due to him being 198 pounds and being the featured back. Had there been a bigger back in a two-back set, like there was when Malzahn was offensive coordinator, Mason might have had more success.

With Artis-Payne in the mix, Mason should still get a good amount of carries, but defenses won't be as focused on him.


Mike Blakely and Others

As a freshman, Mike Blakely ran for 153 total yards but didn't record a rush in six games.

In 2013, Blakely should find himself involved a little more, especially with Onterio McCalebb leaving campus.

The Tigers also have Jordan Wilkins committed to the 2013 class, and he could see some work in his freshman year.

Overall, Auburn does have talent in the backfield. But that talent is dependent upon having a bruiser who can get those tough yards.

Artis-Payne will be that tough bruiser who will carry the load.

Don't believe me? Just wait until spring football opens up. Artis-Payne will show that he's light years ahead of others with his abilities and maturity.

For the second time in four years, it will be a JUCO transfer who will provide a spark for the Tigers. Remember the last time that happened?