Auburn needed miracles to beat Georgia and Alabama in its final two regular-season games, winning on a fourth-down Hail Mary and a 109-yard missed field-goal return as time expired. But against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game, no such divine intervention was necessary.
All the Tigers needed was a healthy dose of Tre Mason.
Auburn's bell-cow rushed 46 times for 304 yards in Atlanta, helping his team hang 59 points on Missouri and advance—with a little help from Michigan State—to the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Mason broke the SEC Championship Game record for rushing yards, rushing attempts, yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards. His performance was truly one for the ages, and in addition to moving Auburn within 60 minutes of a national title, Mason might have earned himself a spot in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Mason comported himself with poise and humility after the game, deflecting praise away from his own performance and onto his coaching staff and teammates.
"Our offense is very versatile," Mason said, according to Dan Wolken of USA Today. "There's so many different ways we can get players the ball using our other weapons, our receivers. We have a lot of talented running backs. (Gus Malzahn) finds ways to get us the ball, and (the offensive line) opens up some of the biggest holes I've ever seen."
Technically—technically—nothing Mason said is untrue. His offensive line plows ravines in opposing defenses, and Malzahn is a creative genius at keeping opponents off-balance. Without the aide of those parties, there's no way he would have reached 300 yards.
But let's not kid ourselves, either. Saturday afternoon was more about Mason than anybody else—and frankly, it wasn't even close. He made determined choices on every play, displaying excellent vision and excelling from zero to 60 in a heartbeat after each cut. It was truly a sight to behold.
Still, the question of Mason's Heisman candidacy is a tricky one. Hardly anyone spoke of him as a viable option before Saturday—quarterback Nick Marshall entered the game as a more appealing candidate—but on second look, his stats might warrant a trip to New York:
|Tre Mason 2013 Rushing Stats|
|Value||SEC Rank||FBS Rank|
Mason struck Heisman poses after two of his touchdowns on Saturday, so the trophy is not far from his mind. "Some people were telling me to do it," Mason said, according to Brandon Marcello of AL.com. "But it was just this emotion going through my body at the time and it just came out and I did it."
Others, however, are less keen on Mason's bid for a Heisman. Good as he was this season, the fact remains that he was hardly a candidate before Saturday's game, and that this award is a supposed to be a season-long achievement.
Andy Johnson of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution warns against being slaves to the moment:
Mason’s timing was excellent, and don’t be surprised if he is one of of the finalists invited to NYC just a week after he was an afterthought to most voters. In fact, Auburn QB Nick Marshall was being promoted as a darkhorse Heisman candidate in the days leading up to the game.
The Heisman should be about one season. The whole thing.
Not one game.
The Heisman finalists will be announced Monday at 5 p.m. ET, so the discourse and lobbying for Mason's spot will be short-lived.
Even with an invite to New York, the back will be a heavy underdog—along with every other finalist—to beat Florida State freshman Jameis Winston, whose combination of team and individual achievement is hard for anyone to compare with in 2013.
If Winston indeed wins, though, Mason, Marshall and the rest of Auburn's team will not wait long for a shot at redemption. A victory over the Seminoles on Dec. 6 would be the ultimate prize; it would yield the much more important trophy.
Thanks to Mason's heroics, Auburn might still have the last laugh.