Tre Mason better get his bags packed for New York. The Auburn running back's 304-yard, four-touchdown performance in the SEC Championship Game showed that he's a Heisman contender.
After FSU quarterback Jameis Winston was not charged with sexual assault this past week, he all but had the award locked up. But Mason has emerged as a legitimate contender for the award with his play over the past two weeks against Alabama and in the SEC title game.
Thinking #Auburn RB Tre Mason may run his way onto A LOT of Heisman ballots today. Ran for 132 at LSU, 164 on Bama & headed for 350 today— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) December 7, 2013
In fact, Mason has just four games all season where he ran for under 99 yards. One of them was a game against Florida Atlantic where he didn't even see a carry after Auburn went up 31-0 in the middle of the second quarter.
|@ No. 15 LSU||26||132||5.08||2|
|@ No. 24 Texas A&M||27||178||6.59||1|
|vs. No. 22 Georgia||27||115||4.26||1|
|vs. No. 4 Alabama||29||164||5.66||1|
|vs. No. 5 Missouri||46||304||6.61||4|
ESPN, Rankings are BCS Standings
The others were in the first five games of the season when the team was still settling into Gus Malzahn's offense. But once it got comfortable, Mason exploded.
Rarely does a running back just get better as the season rolls along. Yet that is exactly what Tre did this season.
Gus Malzahn said, "(Tre Mason) is one of the best players to ever wear an Auburn helmet."— Justin Hokanson (@JHokanson) December 8, 2013
He developed as a running back and dominated against his best competition. Against current Top 25 teams, Mason has 893 yards on 155 carries and nine touchdowns. That's in five games. In his other eight games on the season, he has just 128 carries for 728 yards.
Mason rises to the occasion against top-notch talent, and that is the mark of a true Heisman contender. Winston is the only person who is more deserving of the Heisman Trophy than Mason.
So, considering the top contenders all get invited to New York, Mason should be at the Heisman ceremony on December 14.
Should he declare for the 2014 NFL draft now?
Based on how NFL running backs age, and how the 2015 NFL draft is going to have a ton more talent in it than 2014 will, Mason should maximize his value and leave now for the NFL.
NFL running backs fall off after they turn 30 years old. So with him being 21 on opening day of the 2014 season, Mason should be projected as a guy who could give around 10 years of production.
By the end of the day, Tre Mason is going to be the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.— Adam Fromal (@fromal09) December 7, 2013
By the time he would hit the cliff that running backs see at 30, he'd be a 10-year pro and nearing retirement. In addition to that, playing and succeeding in the SEC at running back shows that the Auburn product can play against NFL-caliber defenses.
Should Tre Mason declare for the NFL draft?
By leaving early and not trying to compete with the likes of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall, Melvin Gordon or T.J. Yeldon for the top running back spot in 2015, Mason would be bypassing a battle he couldn't win. 2014 doesn't have any senior or junior running backs who are anywhere close to the caliber of those four players.
So a talent like Mason would go in the second or third round if he decided to declare this year. If he waited another year, took another pounding in the SEC and got compared to the 2015 junior class, the Heisman contender wouldn't be more than a day three prospect.
No one will fault him if he decides to maximize his value as a prospect and leave early. And honestly, he should declare this year.
Of course, that's right after we see Mason enjoy a weekend in New York with Jameis Winston and a Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, College Football, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.