- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Where did the season go? We’re down to just the bowl games, so consider this the post-SEC championship game and pre-bowl games version of Hot and Not:
Auburn running back Tre Mason: He just kept going and going and going Saturday in a 59-42 win over Missouri in the SEC championship game. When he was finally finished gashing the Missouri defense, Mason had carried the ball 46 times for an SEC championship game-record 304 yards. It was the fifth-highest rushing total in a game by an SEC player and the most since Arkansas' Darren McFadden had 321 yards against South Carolina in 2007. Mason now has 1,621 rushing yards this season, which is second only to the great Bo Jackson in the Auburn record books. Jackson rushed for 1,786 yards during his 1985 Heisman Trophy season. In his past two games -- against the top two ranked run defenses he faced all season -- Mason has rushed for 468 yards. That includes Auburn's 296 rushing yards two weeks ago against an Alabama run defense that typically doesn't give up 296 rushing yards in three games. Mason was one of the most underrated running backs in college football coming into the season. He ends the season as one of the best running backs and deserves to be in New York City as a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Auburn’s offensive line: There’s a lot of love being passed around right now to Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, quarterback Nick Marshall, Mason and just the incredible pace, tempo and precision that the Tigers play with on offense. But it all starts with those guys up front. Auburn’s offensive line has been devastating this season, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an offensive line playing any better right now in college football.
Chances of Nick Saban going to Texas: Every day, there’s some new speculation or tidbit about Saban going to Texas if Mack Brown does indeed step down. One more time (and with emphasis), Saban is not going to Texas. He has said it. His wife has said it, and those closest to him have said it. He will be the coach at Alabama next season.
South Carolina: Steve Spurrier continues to amaze at South Carolina in what he’s been able to accomplish there. The Gamecocks won 10 games again in the regular season and will face Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Alabama and South Carolina are the only SEC teams to have won 10 or more in each of the past three seasons. What’s more, the Gamecocks are the only team in the country this season to have beaten three teams (Clemson, Missouri and UCF) that finished in the top 15 of the final BCS standings.
Vanderbilt’s bowl perception: Despite going 8-4 (and 4-4 in the league), Vanderbilt was the last SEC team selected and will play in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham. It's the third straight season that the Commodores have played in a bowl game, but coach James Franklin said it best. The best way to change their circumstances is to buy up as many tickets as possible and make a statement at the game. Of course, the truth is that "deserve" rarely has anything to do with the bowl selection process.
Coaching salaries in the SEC: Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin goes to $5 million (when he signs his contract). Malzahn's new deal averages $4.5 million. You can bet Saban will get another bump, and it sounds like Missouri's Gary Pinkel also will get a raise. The bottom line: If you're making $3 million a year these days in the SEC, you're probably in the lower half of the league in terms of salary.
Missouri's run defense: Really, the Tigers were pretty stout against the run all season. But get this: They entered the SEC championship game ranked second in the league in rushing defense and came out of the game ranked eighth. That’s what happens when you give up 545 yards on the ground in one game.
Auburn’s respect: It has been a magical season for the Tigers, who beat four teams in the final BCS standings, but they’re a decided underdog in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. Florida State is an 8½-point favorite over Auburn, which makes the Tigers the biggest underdog of any of the SEC teams during the league’s seven-year national championship streak. In fact, this is the first time an SEC team hasn't been favored in the game by oddsmakers since Florida upset Ohio State in 2006 to ignite the streak. Auburn can become the only team in the BCS era to win a national title after starting the season unranked in either of the polls.
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney