Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Nick Marshall all expect to run well in Auburn's 2013 season opener against Washington State. But, who will run the most?
Tre Mason was Auburn's leading rusher in 2012 with 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns. Mason added 86 receiving yards to his rushing total to also lead the Tigers in total offense. Mason would be Auburn's clear choice for a feature back in 2013 if not for the addition of junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne.
In 2012 Artis-Payne rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns at Allan Hancock Community College in California. He has already made a name for himself at Auburn by winning the A-Day (spring game) MVP award with 117 yards rushing and 47 yards receiving.
So, who is Auburn's no. 1 running back? Per Gus Malzahn's depth chart—released just three days before the first game—Mason is the starter. Artis-Payne is second on the list, but Malzahn says, "They're pretty much on equal ground right now going into this first game."
The running backs, however, are not Auburn's only candidates to lead the Tigers in rushing.
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall threw for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns at Garden City Community college in 2012, but he also rushed for 1,095 yards and 19 touchdowns.
When Marshall was named Auburn's starting quarterback for 2013, Tiger tight end C.J. Uzomah said, "How athletic he is and how fast he is and his ability to extend the play and make things happen with his legs, it's something you just have to watch. ... He's a blazing guy. It's something kind of special."
Obviously, Auburn needs "something kind of special" to bounce back after a disappointing 2012. Is Marshall the answer? Yes—but that doesn't mean he will lead the Tigers' rushing attack in week 1.
The answer for running the ball in Auburn's 2013 opener is experience. That is why Tre Mason will get the most opportunities—and the most yards—in the Tigers' game against Washington State. Malzahn will be asking a lot from both Marshall and Artis-Payne in 2013 but not in the first week.
Marshall will be Auburn's second-leading rusher in the first game, as Malzahn will not yet ask him to win the game by throwing the ball. Artis-Payne, however, will break a couple of big runs and thereby have the best yards-per-carry average.
Auburn's leading rusher for 2013 may not be determined for at least another 12 games, but, for August, it will be Tre Mason.
Josh Dowdy is a Contributor for Bleacher Report and the author of Orange Is Our Color: The Tuberville Years Through Navy-tinted Glasses.