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Ranking the Malzahn era: Running backs

AUBURN | Gus Malzahn’s Auburn teams have produced several very productive running backs over the past seven seasons. Here’s a look at the top five.

1. Tre Mason (2011-13)

Tre Mason only played one season under Malzahn as head coach but what a season it was as he led the Tigers to an SEC Championship and a close loss to Florida State in the BCS National Championship game. Mason broke Bo Jackson’s school record with 1,816 rushing yards and Cam Newton’s school record with 23 rushing touchdowns. His 304 rushing yards against Missouri set an SEC Championship game record and is the second-most in school history and his 150 points scored is a single-season AU record. Mason’s 1,002 rushing yards on the Tigers’ horrible 2012 team, which finished 0-8 in the SEC, was also an impressive feat. He finished his three-year Auburn career with 2,979 yards and 32 touchdowns on 516 carries. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass. Mason played two seasons in the NFL gaining 972 yards and scoring five touchdowns on 254 carries.

Mason was a one-man wrecking crew against Missouri in the SEC Championship game.
Mason was a one-man wrecking crew against Missouri in the SEC Championship game. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn athletics)

2. Kerryon Johnson (2015-17)

Kerryon Johnson topped off a terrific three-year career at Auburn with a standout season in 2017 in which he earned SEC Offensive Player of the Year and second-team All-American honors rushing for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns on 285 carries. He led Auburn to November wins over No. 1 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama and had he not been injured against in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl and been ineffective in an SEC Championship game loss to the Bulldogs, Auburn could have been playing in the college football playoffs for the first time in school history. Johnson finished his Auburn career with 2,494 yards and 32 touchdowns on 519 carries. He also caught two touchdown passes and threw two more. He ranks 11th in career rushing yards and fourth in career rushing touchdowns. In two years in the NFL, Johnson has rushed for 1,044 yards and six touchdowns on 231 carries.

3. Cameron Artis-Payne (2013-14)

After backing up Mason for one year, Cameron Artis-Payne put together the third-best rushing season of any running back in Auburn history in 2014. The junior college transfer gained 1,608 yards and scored 13 touchdowns on 303 carries as he was named first-team All-SEC and honorable mention All-American. He led the SEC averaging 123.7 yards per game and had his best game in an upset loss to Texas A&M as he gained 221 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. In just two years at Auburn, Artis-Payne finished his career with 2,218 rushing yards, which ranks 15th in school history. He went on to play four years in the NFL totaling 491 yards and five touchdowns on 118 carries, before playing in the XFL in 2019.

4. Kamryn Pettway (2014-17)

When Kamryn Pettway was healthy, he steamrolled through the SEC including an impressive four-game stretch during the 2016 season in which he gained 770 yards and scored six touchdowns against Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. He finished that season with 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns on 209 carries, leading the conference averaging 124.8 yards per game and earning first-team All-SEC honors. He had just 305 rushing yards in an injury-filled 2017 season and finished his career with 1,529 yards and 13 touchdowns on 285 carries. Pettway had a brief stint in the NFL in 2018 but was cut after training camp.

5. Peyton Barber (2013-15)

After barely seeing the field his first two seasons including a redshirt in 2013 and 10 carries the following season, Peyton Barber erupted for a team-leading 1,017 yards and 13 touchdown on 238 carries in 2015. He also had an outstanding four-game stretch in which he gained 496 yards and scored 11 touchdowns against Mississippi State, San Jose State, Kentucky and Arkansas. Barber has gone on to gain 1,987 yards and score 15 touchdowns on 551 carries in four seasons in the NFL.

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