It seems a ridiculous question to many college football bettors, but we’re going to ask it anyways: when Georgia Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley comes back from his indefinite suspension, will he immediately step into his starting role or have to earn it back?
Before being suspended for possible NCAA violations related to the sale of memorabilia, Gurley was tearing up the competition. His stats through five games included 94 rushes for 773 yards (8.2 YPC) and 8 touchdowns. Given these numbers, it’s little surprise that the 6’1″, 226-pound back was a leading Heisman candidate. And while the Heisman Trophy is out reach now, he’s still one of the nation’s most talented players.
Unfortunately, he’s now at the mercy of the NCAA as they consider when to reinstate the junior. Could he be back in time for next Saturday’s matchup against the Florida Gators? Or will he be waiting until mid-November, when the 9th-ranked Bulldogs take on the 5th-ranked Auburn Tigers? This uncertainty has been haunting Georgia coaches and fans over the past two and a half weeks.
In Gurley’s place has stepped freshman Nick Chubb, who’s been a more-than-serviceable backup. In victories at Missouri and Arkansas, Chubb provided 143 and 202 rushing yards respectively and three touchdowns. Sure a lot of this can be attributed to excellent run blocking by Georgia’s line. But Chubb has flashed the skills that show he’s Georgia’s running back of the future.
We should mention, though, that this isn’t a question of if Chubb is better than Gurley. The latter is two years more seasoned and arguably college football’s best running back. Instead, it’s a matter of weighing if Chubb can be nearly as good as Gurley along with sticking to the university’s standards.
Several years ago, head coach Mark Richt started the foundation of a stricter approach to dealing with players after the arrests of Caleb King and Washaun Ealey. No matter the talent level, Richt doesn’t let player skate by just because they’re good. So this brings us back to the original point of if Gurley will be starting right away.
We’re not being naive here because he gives this team the best chance to win when he’s on the field. However, it might send a good message to the entire team if Gurley loses a few carries and a little playing time to Chubb when he comes back. Of course, part of sending this message may depend upon when he’s reinstated too. If it doesn’t happen until around November 15th, when Georgia plays Auburn, standards may go out the window. But with winnable games against Florida and Kentucky, now would be the perfect time for Richt to uphold his standards.