A surprising piece of news hit Auburn football on Sunday with the announcement that star running back Michael Dyer will be suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Dyer, who recently earned first-team All-SEC honors after his second consecutive 1,000 yard season, has been suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
Dyer’s suspension seems to be bad news at first glance, since he was Auburn’s most consistent offensive threat this season. His absence will leave a big hole in the lineup when the Tigers face the Virginia Cavaliers on December 31. His role in the program is also now in doubt until coach Gene Chizik feels that he is ready to be reinstated.
That said, Dyer’s suspension for the bowl game can give Auburn an opportunity to see some other players get some carries in preparation for next season. Speedy Onterio McCalebb should assume a bigger role, but his best fit is as a change of pace back and receiver out of the backfield.
It looks like the main beneficiary of the need for carries will be freshman Tre Mason, who could be the heir apparent to Dyer as Auburn’s starting running back.
A highly-touted recruit out of Florida, the blazing fast Mason has had an up and down first season at Auburn. Mason earned the kick returner job out of training camp and got off to a fast start with a touchdown in the opener against Utah State.
Despite his strong start, Mason was later slowed by an injury and fumbles, and ended up losing his job as the kick returner.
Mason has carried the ball sparingly this year, posting 97 yards on 19 carries, so he heads into Atlanta pretty much as an unknown quantity as a college running back. That will change against Virginia, though, as an inconsistent offense will need to rely on Mason to keep the ground game going during the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The true freshman will have to emerge in a hurry if Auburn is going to keep their bowl game winning streak alive on New Year’s Eve.