There's a running back for the Auburn Tigers who rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2012 that is flying under the national radar this preseason.
Running back Tre Mason eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark last fall on his very last carry of the season in the Iron Bowl against Alabama. It was the only thing Auburn fans had to cheer about that day. To be exact, he finished the year with 1,002 yards. While doing that, Mason proved a lot of people wrong about his ability to have success as an every-down running back in the SEC.
In 2013, look for Mason to back up his impressive sophomore campaign with a breakout season in his junior year in an offense that is geared toward his strengths.
Tre Mason was one of very few bright spots during Auburn's 3-9 2012 campaign. He was thrust into more playing time than expected before the season even got started last fall when freshman RB Jovon Robinson was deemed academically ineligible a few days into fall camp. Robinson's departure left the Tigers without a big body in the backfield to run the ball up the middle.
Standing 5'10" and weighing in at 196 pounds, Mason didn't seem to be the ideal candidate.
No one gave that memo to Mason. In the season opener against Clemson, he ran for 107 yards on 14 carries. Mason's speed, vision and cutting ability makes up for what he lacks in size.
While rushing for 1,000 yards is very impressive, what may be more impressive is that Mason accomplished the feat in an offense that was one of the worst offenses in the country. According to statistical warehouse cfbstats.com, Auburn ranked No. 118 out of 124 in total offense. Mason is the only rusher to rush for over 1,000 yards in the bottom 14 teams.
Mason's rushing yards accounted for just over 27 percent of Auburn's entire offensive output (3,660 yards). Mason did the best he could to carry an offense that was inept.
Help is on the way for Mr. Mason and that—along with a return to head coach Gus Malzahn's offense—will lead to Mason's breakout of national proportions in 2013.
Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne had a strong spring while Mason nursed a nagging ankle injury. He will likely eat into Mason's carries a little in 2013, but that is not a bad thing. Mason will stay fresh when there is a full stable of healthy RBs. Corey Grant, Jonathan Ford and Peyton Barber will also compete for carries. Mason has big goals for the group of RBs.
"I love seeing them do their thing and ball out," Mason said of his cohorts after Auburn's A-Day game. "We want to do this thing together, and we’re looking to do something, have three 1,000-yard backs" (via Joel Erickson, al.com)
That is a lofty goal, but Malzahn uses multiple RBs in his offense as good as, if not better than, any other offensive mind in the country. His offensive system has produced nine 1,000-yard rushers in seven seasons at the collegiate level.
Malzahn's offense will put Mason into situations where he can shine. Mason will be used more on the outside this fall, likely in the same fashion that Malzahn used to use former Auburn RB Onterio McCalebb—that is, on speed sweeps and catching the ball out of the backfield. This way, Mason can use his game-breaking (and squirrel-catching) speed in open space.
Mason's only extensive game action in Malzahn's offense came in the Chick-Fil-A bowl in 2011, where he rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown. That was Malzahn's last game as Auburn's offensive coordinator.
Mason has lived most of his life in the shadow of his dad Vincent Mason, who was a member of the late'80s/early-'90s hip-hop group De La Soul.
When Mason backs up his 2012 performance with an even better showing in 2013, that will no longer be an issue.
Don't bet against him.