It's tough for running backs to get much Heisman love these days as just one tailback has won college football's biggest award this century. Can Georgia's Todd Gurley make it two? He is the shortest-priced running back at +1600 on NCAA football odds.
Best Back In Country?
Most early 2015 NFL mock drafts have Gurley as a first-round pick next season, and the first running back off the board -- even though running backs haven't exactly been a first-round priority of late. Gurley, a touted recruit from North Carolina, was spectacular as a freshman in 2012. He rushed 222 times for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns. Against that stellar Alabama '12 defense in the SEC title game, Gurley still managed 122 yards rushing, and two scores in Georgia's oh-so-close loss. Gurley joined 1982 Heisman winner Herschel Walker (Georgia's last winner) as the only true freshmen 1,000-yard rushers in school history and set the UGA freshman record with those 17 scores.
So, Gurley was definitely a legitimate Heisman contender last year (although No. 2 on his own team behind quarterback Aaron Murray), but things didn't go according to plan. It started going downhill in Georgia's fourth game, against LSU. Gurley suffered an ankle injury early in the game, and was limited to eight carries. Gurley would miss the next three games, an overtime win at Tennessee, and losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt, that all but killed Georgia's SEC East hopes. Gurley really wasn't a dominant force when returning. He would have only two more 100-yard games, and the Dawgs were disappointments overall, finishing at 8-5 following a Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska.
Overall, Gurley led the team with 989 yards rushing, and 10 touchdowns, and was third on the team with 37 receptions for 441 yards, and a team-high six touchdown catches. He was named All-SEC second team, certainly nothing to be ashamed of... but not Heisman-worthy.
Looking Ahead To 2014
The good news for Gurley is that the Dawgs are likely to run the ball more this season because they have to replace the four-year starter Murray, the SEC's all-time leading passer, with inexperienced Huston Mason (+15000 on Heisman NCAA football odds). The bad news for Gurley: Defenses will no doubt make Mason beat them, plus Gurley will have to share some carries with Keith Marshall, a talented guy in his own right.
Georgia opens the season with a big challenge: home against Clemson on Aug. 30. The Dawgs are 8.5-point favorites on NCAA football odds. Those two opened 2013 against one another in Death Valley, and it was one of the better games of the year with the Tigers winning 38-35. Gurley ran for 154 yards, and two touchdowns, but was slowed by a thigh injury after an early 75-yard TD scamper.
The Dawgs' season could be defined on Sept. 13 at South Carolina as those two schools are expected to battle for the SEC East title. An early win would be a huge upper-hand for a tiebreaker. Georgia beat the visiting Gamecocks 41-30 last season. Gurley was a beast with 30 carries for 132 yards, and a touchdown, while also catching a TD pass.
Georgia's schedule gets much easier after that: vs. Troy, vs. Tennessee, vs. Vanderbilt. Those should be wins. Gurley missed games against the Vols and Commodores in 2013. Trips to Missouri and Arkansas follow that. The Tigers aren't likely to be anywhere near as good this season, and the Hogs are picked to finish last in the SEC West. The annual Cocktail Party game in Jacksonville with Florida is Nov. 1. Gurley returned from his injury last year in the 23-20 win over Florida, and had 17 carries for 100 yards, and a TD while catching three passes for 87 yards, including a 73-yard score.
The Dawgs close with three straight at home: Auburn, Charleston Southern and Georgia Tech. Gurley had 79 yards rushing and a TD, and 10 catches for 77 yards and a score in that epic last-second loss to Auburn last year. He had four total touchdowns, and 122 yards rushing in a double-overtime win over Georgia Tech.
Georgia is +2100 to win the national championship, +250 to make the College Football Playoff and has a wins total of 9.5, with the 'over' a -160 favorite.
NCAA Football Free Picks: Georgia's Heisman drought continues for another season. Gurley is ultra-talented, but with an iffy quarterback, and a bit of a time-sharing deal in the backfield, he won't put up crazy enough numbers for Heisman voters to choose him over a quarterback.
Take Georgia 'over' 9.5 wins for your college football pick. It will finish 10-2, losing at South Carolina, and against either Florida, or Auburn, but not both. That won't be enough to make the playoff because USC will win the SEC East.