The Auburn Tigers should be a vastly improved football team in Year 1 of the Gus Malzahn era.
Despite the need to replace senior playmakers Emory Blake, Onterrio McCalebb and, to a lesser extent, junior Corey Lemonier, the Tigers should be on the upswing. They have the talent to replace those losses and more in the upcoming season.
After all, they can't be much worse than they were last season. Gene Chizik's run at the University came to a screeching halt with a disappointing 3-9 season that left everyone frustrated.
But the return of Malzahn means the return to a more exciting brand of football. Fans will also hope it means a return to the winning ways that saw the team capture the 2010 National Championship when he was the offensive coordinator.
These players should help ease the transition as they attempt to turn the program around in Year 1.
Tre Mason, RB
Given the questions that Auburn has at the quarterback position, everything the Tigers do offensively needs to begin and end with Mason.
He should be ready to shoulder the load, too.
The 5'10", 205-pound back topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark on 171 carries last season even though teams knew they could load up the box with Kiehl Frazier and the rest of the Tigers quarterbacks throwing for a grand total of eight touchdowns on the season.
In Malzahn's up-tempo spread look, defenses will be hard-pressed to load up the box like they did last year. Mason is the perfect back to find the holes in the defense and rack up even more yardage this season.
Trovon Reed, WR
It probably doesn't matter much based on the fact that Auburn's passing game was in need of an overhaul last season, but the leading returning receiver from last season is tight end C.J. Uzomah. He caught seven passes for a whopping 136 yards last season.
Considering he's listed on Malzahn's post-spring depth chart as even with Brandon Fulse as the team's starting tight end this season, it's not likely he leads them in receiving this year.
Who may wind up leading the Tigers in the category is Trovon Reed. The 6'0" 190-pound speedster was rated as a 5-star prospect by 247sports composite rankings coming out of high school, but he has failed to turn that into on-field success.
Now is the time for him to change that. With three years in the program under his belt, he should be one of the leaders on the offense. As the starting flanker, he'll see his fair share of deep targets. It will be up to him to keep defenses honest.
Cameron Artis-Payne, RB
Much is made of Malzahn's high-paced spread offense, but at it's core, it's a smashmouth running offense. That's why it's not unusual to see two running backs put up strong numbers under his watch.
In the 2010 season at Auburn, for example, not only did Cam Newton rush for over 1,400 yards, but Michael Dyer went for over 1,000 and Onterio McCalebb ran for an additional 810.
As the head man at Arkansas State, Malzahn got 1,080 yards and 16 touchdowns from David Oku but also converted diminutive freshman cornerback Rocky Hayes into a 538-yard rusher, too. The point is, the man gets production from two running backs regardless of the circumstance.
Fortunately, he has a strong complement to Tre Mason in Cameron Artis-Payne. At a sturdy 5'11", 210 pounds, Artis Payne has the bulk and strength to get tough yards between the tackles.
As a junior college prospect, Artis-Payne should have what it takes to make an immediate impact. He was 247sports' top JUCO running back in the country after rushing for 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns at Allan Hancock College last season.
Expect him to live up to the hype and give Auburn a solid thunder-and-lightning duo with Mason.
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