Player of the week: SEC

Growing up, Tre Mason said he was always looked at as an underdog. Those days are over. The Auburn running back rushed for 168 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in the Tigers’ 35-17 win at Arkansas on Saturday.

It was obvious early on that it was going to be one of those days for Mason. He picked up 15 yards on his first carry, and he had 59 yards and a touchdown on the first two Auburn drives. The coaches knew it, too. They kept giving him the rock, and by the end of the game, the junior had a career-high 32 carries. He scored a touchdown in every quarter.

Before the season, it was Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Georgia’s Todd Gurley who were first-team All-SEC nominations, but through nine games, Mason has surpassed both of them and is on par with South Carolina’s Mike Davis as the league’s best running back.

He leads the SEC (third nationally) with 13 touchdowns, and he’s third in the conference (13th nationally) with 921 yards.

More importantly, he has become a workhorse for this Auburn team. Early in the season, he split carries with Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, but that changed when the Tigers began their SEC slate. The coaches put the offense on Mason’s back, and he has delivered. He’s averaging a league-best 23.2 carries per game in the team’s five conference games.

The 5-foot-10, 205-pound back rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns at LSU. He had 178 yards and a touchdown at Texas A&M. And he put together maybe his performance yet with 168 yards and four scores Saturday at Arkansas.

Auburn is ranked No. 9 in the latest BCS standings, and with three games still to play, the Tigers control their own destiny in the SEC West.

“Our goal is the national championship,” Mason said. “It’s a team goal. And it’s not going to change.”

The bar is set pretty high for a team that finished 3-9 a season ago, but if Mason keeps running this way, who is going to stop them? Next up is another road game with Tennessee, and you can bet Mason’s name will be called early and often against the Volunteers.