During the 2013 season, the Auburn Tigers literally made a “run” the Southeastern Conference championship and an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game. And it was the offense, specifically the running game, that got them there. Auburn led the nation in rushing last season, and head coach Gus Malzahn hopes that can continue in 2014.
It won’t be easy, as standout running back Tre Mason left for the NFL with one year of eligibility remaining. However, this time last year, many didn’t even think Mason would earn the starting job for the 2013 season. He did, and he went on to become a Heisman Trophy finalist, breaking Bo Jackson‘s school rushing record along the way.
With Mason gone, Auburn has a large spot to fill, but there also appear to be several good candidates to step in.
Last season, many thought that Cameron Artis-Payne could start ahead of Mason. As everyone knows, that didn’t happen, but Artis-Payne did rush 91 times for 610 yards and six touchdowns last year. Now, he gets another chance to become the starter.
Corey Grant is also back for 2014, after rushing for 647 yards on 66 carries last year. Grant also had six touchdowns.
Sophomore-to-be Johnathan Ford is also in the mix, although his action last season was limited. Ford rushed just six times for 73 yards, with a touchdown.
Those three players figure to be the ones competing to become the starter, although redshirt freshman Peyton Barber could also be in the mix. And true freshmen Kamryn Pettway and Roc Thomas could also be contenders for playing time.
Whoever emerges from this competition steps into a nice position. With experienced quarterback Nick Marshall running the read option, the starting running back is going to get the ball quite often, and almost always in a position where he can make a big play.
Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for RantSports.com and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.