Message to Heisman voters: If no one else wants the 2013 Heisman Trophy, Auburn running back Tre Mason will be more than glad to take if off your hands.
In a season where top contenders are dropping like flies down the stretch, Mason is only getting better. A week after scampering for 164 yard and a touchdown in the Tigers' upset victory over Alabama, Mason topped that and then some in Saturday's 59-42 victory over Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
Mason rushed for a championship-game record 304 yards and four touchdowns, scampering for two scores down the stretch as the Tigers put Missouri away. After his final touchdown—a 13-yard run that finalized the score—Mason even sent a message to voters. Harkening back to the days of Desmond Howard, the Auburn back jutted one arm out from his side and struck the most iconic pose in college football.
Keep in mind he wasn't even the likeliest Heisman winner on his own team coming into this week. In listing its contenders even after Mason's performance, the ESPN Heisman Watch graphic includes 12 players—none of whom were No. 21:
Now, when the folks at ESPN get around to making a new graphic, Mason's name will undoubtedly be near the top. Running with patience and speed, Mason essentially acted as the entire Auburn offense. Quarterback Nick Marshall only needed to attempt 11 passes. While Marshall had 101 rushing yards of his own, the overwhelming majority of his night was spent handing the ball off to Mason and watching him do the rest.
With two massive games before a nationally televised audience in as many weeks, did Mason make himself a Heisman contender? Well, yes and no. These two weeks were enough to put the Auburn back, who has also set a school record for rushing touchdowns this year, right near the top of the contender pile.
Mason just has no chance of breaking the glass ceiling and actually winning.
The reality of any Heisman-related column comes with the acknowledgement that Jameis Winston is winning the award. The Florida State quarterback had such a massive lead coming into this week over the anemic field that he'd probably still win even if the No. 1 Seminoles were upset by Duke in the ACC title game.
And he probably deserves to. From the opening week, Winston was the most spectacular player in college football. There were no fits and starts in his stat line. Winston's lowest passer rating of the season was 124.9 during a game against Wake Forest in which he threw for only 159 yards and two touchdowns against one pick.
Florida State won that game 59-3. Winston came into this week with prodigious counting stats. He has thrown for 3,490 yards and 35 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Now, sit back and remember how many fourth quarters Winston has sat out because the Seminoles were throttling their opponent.
He is the Heisman winner. There is no other correct answer.
The question here is where Mason ranks among everyone else. Also known as the poor, unsuspecting souls who will be invited to New York City, go through an entire press junket and smile meekly for the cameras as they watch Winston hold the bronze statue. Anyone not named Jameis Winston is there to fill an hour of television that will wildly inflate ESPN's weekly ratings.
Whatever. You do you, highly-rated filler programming. After all, there are worse things in the world than some free dinners and hobnobbing it in Manhattan, which is beautiful in the winter.
Among the smiley space-fillers, you could make an argument that Mason should be at the top. Auburn ended the monolithic reign of Alabama, won an SEC title a year after losing each of its eight in-conference games and will deserve its spot in the national title game if the BCS gods choose to give the Tigers one.
Gus Malzahn's system and Mason's execution of his play calls are arguably the biggest reasons why. Like it or not, Auburn's standing among the elite in the nation will have just as much effect as Mason's individual excellence.
It also doesn't hurt that nearly everyone else in contention faltered. Johnny Manziel finished with two straight miserable performances in losses to LSU and Missouri. Jordan Lynch saw his Heisman hopes and Northern Illinois' BCS chances go up in flames when the Huskies lost to Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game. AJ McCarron was really only a contender because we all assumed Alabama was unstoppable.
Boston College running back Andre Williams leads the nation in rushing, but was really only in the race because no one else was stepping up. Ka'Deem Carey was kicked out of the Super Awesome RB spot this week by Mason.
If I had to guess, the Heisman Trust will invite four players: Winston, Mason, Lynch and McCarron. I'd be more inclined to add Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to my ballot than McCarron, but the Tide quarterback is one of the most recognizable faces in college football and wasn't at fault for Alabama's loss to Auburn.
Either way, within two weeks Mason has gone from someone that most fans couldn't pick out of a lineup to the most recognizable running back in college football. He won't win the Heisman this year, nor does he deserve to.
But it's likely the wins over Alabama and Missouri will do a lot to soothe the disappointment.
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