Auburn Tigers running back Tre Mason has been the best surprise of the college football season. And yes, that includes the play of Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston. Unlike Winston, Mason has led a team that was expected to struggle to end the season with a winning record to the national title game. Mason deserves to win the Heisman Trophy as the most dominating player in college football this season.
The thing is, the award isn’t technically for quarterbacks only. I know we all just assume that at this point, because it’s been so long since a non-quarterback could be the most important offensive player for a dominant team, but this Auburn team is the most devastatingly-consistent rushing team we’ve seen in decades, and that rushing game starts with Mason.
A dynamic all-around runner with powerful legs and a low center of gravity, Mason is the perfect back for Gus Malzahn’s spread running game. He has great vision and always seems to find the creases in the defense that the wide-open offense creates. We’re not only seeing a great season by a talented runner, but we might just be sneaking a glimpse into the future of the game.
Playing well in and winning big games is the most important quality a Heisman recipient must have. Good players are expected to dominate lesser opponents, but stepping up and leading your team to victory against the good teams is what separates the great players from the good ones, and Mason has saved his best performances for the biggest games of the season.
When the team needed a big win against a heavily-favored Texas A&M squad led by Johnny Manziel, the leader in the clubhouse for the Heisman at the time, Mason exploded for 178 yards and a touchdown. Since then, with his team playing must-win games the whole time, Mason has broken the 100 yard mark in all of Auburn’s final games, excluding a 10-carry performance against a Florida Atlantic team that saw the Tigers sit most of their starters at the end.
That stretch run was enough to get his name into the conversation, but his transcendent performance in the SEC title game against the Missouri Tigers skyrockets him into the conversation with Winston. Mason rushed for an amazing 304 yards and four touchdowns in a game that the Tigers would have lost if they couldn’t keep up with the dynamic Missouri offense.
In the end, Winston has all but locked up the award already. He’s the best quarterback in the country on an undefeated team — the perfect Heisman resume. Mason was an unknown quantity coming into the year, so the season he would have needed to take home the trophy would have been out of anyone’s reach. After all, only one non-quarterback has taken home the Heisman since 2000.
Mason has had a great season, and it isn’t over. He won’t win the trophy, but he deserves serious consideration for the award. Even though he won’t beat Winston out for the Heisman, he’ll have a chance to beat him out for an even better trophy next month.