Georgia's chances of winning SEC East take serious hit
The news sent shockwaves throughout college football: Todd Gurley is indefinitely suspended for an alleged NCAA violation (receiving extra benefits for his likeness from memorabilia brokers).
There’s no current timetable for Gurley’s return, but the AJC is reporting Gurley could be out for the entire season as a result of the NCAA investigation.
What does it mean for Georgia’s chances in the SEC East?
First, let’s look at the production Gurley has given UGA so far this season.
- 773 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in five games
- 154.6 yards per game and 8.2 yards per carry
- Responsible for 36 percent of UGA’s offense this season, which the most for any SEC player
- Gurley has 94 carries on the season. No other UGA RB has more than 31
- Georgia ranks second in SEC and 13th nationally with 288.8 yards per game
Coming into the season, Georgia had outstanding running back depth with four quality players, but injuries have kept out both Keith Marshall and freshman Sony Michel.
Freshman running back Nick Chubb (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) will be forced into the limelight during Gurley’s absence. He’s seen some success as Gurley’s backup and he’s certainly no scrub. He’s looked strong during limited action, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Brendan Douglas, also available, carried 84 times in 2013 due to backfield injuries.
But no matter how great he’s played, Chubb at this point in his career is no Gurley. And frankly, no one is.
Quarterback Hutson Mason hasn’t shown he’s capable of leading the offense. Aside from a high completion percentage, Mason’s arm hasn’t won any games for Georgia this season. He simply isn’t consistent enough for UGA to lean on him for offensive production. Even with Gurley in the backfield for opposing defenses to worry about, Mason doesn’t take advantage of his opportunities and it’s highly unlikely that changes now without Gurley.
And that is devastating news to a Georgia team and fan base with aspirations of reaching Atlanta in December. They are now without the best player on the team — quite possibly the nation — for at least this weekend’s game against Missouri and potentially even more.
What does Georgia’s road to the SEC Championship look like following tomorrow’s game in Columbia, Mo.?
Scenario No. 1: Georgia loses to Missouri this weekend
Georgia still has five SEC games left on its schedule: at Missouri, at Arkansas, Florida, at Kentucky and Auburn.
This weekend already was a big game for the Bulldogs before the news of Gurley’s suspension. If Georgia loses, they’ll essentially drop three games behind Missouri in the SEC East due to head-to-head tiebreakers.
Gurley was Georgia’s ultimate trump card. Even with a questionable secondary against Maty Mauk and Missouri’s passing offense, Georgia always had Gurley to lean on. He was going to be the difference maker.
Without him, Georgia escaping Faurot Field with a win, especially with the timing of Gurley’s suspension less than two days before kickoff, seems less likely. You are looking at Georgia team having to replace more than one-third of it’s offensive production in under 48 hours.
If the Bulldogs falter in Columbia on Saturday, the road ahead makes it tough for Georgia to still claim the SEC East title, even if Gurley comes back after a game or two. Missouri would need to lose at least three of its remaining six SEC games and Georgia would need to win out their remaining SEC games just to reclaim the lead in the division. Even with Gurley in the backfield, winning the last four SEC games, especially against No. 2 Auburn, would be a challenge for the Bulldogs.
If they slip up just one more time during that four-game stretch, now Missouri would then have to lose four of its final six SEC games, which is highly unlikely. And that’s not even counting on the other SEC East contenders — Florida and Kentucky — hanging around the top of the division.
The one saving grace for Georgia if they lose tomorrow would be a three-way tiebreaker. If Kentucky or Florida can play well enough to keep pace with Georgia and Missouri, the three-way tiebreaker could nullify Missouri’s advantage over Georgia.
RELATED: SEC divisional tiebreakers explained
Scenario No. 2: Georgia beats Missouri, leads SEC East
Despite Gurley’s absence, Georgia can beat Missouri this weekend. Vegas betting lines still have the ‘Dawgs as the favorite heading into Columbia.
The Tigers aren’t strong in stopping the run, allowing a 100-yard rusher in every game but one this season. Georgia’s new starting running back Nick Chubb may be a freshman, but he’s shown the tools and the frame to at least produce from the starting running back position.
And who knows which Missouri team Georgia will see this weekend. Will it be the Missouri team that lost to Indiana or was shut down by South Carolina for three quarters? Or will it be the Tigers team that throttled Toledo on the road and came-from-behind late in the fourth quarter against the Gamecocks?
A victory Saturday would be easily the biggest win of the season for Mark Richt. From there, you’re looking at a much different scenario for Georgia and its chances of winning the SEC East title. Georgia would then sit in the driver’s seat of the SEC East, owning the tiebreaker over Missouri with six SEC games left to play for the Tigers.
If Georgia beats Missouri and Gurley doesn’t return this season, the Bulldogs will likely be favored in all but one remaining SEC game, their Nov. 15 matchup with Auburn. Assuming Georgia takes care of business as expected, that would leave them with a 6-2 conference record and owning the tiebreakers over all SEC East teams, which puts them in near perfect position to claim another SEC East title.
It really comes down to this weekend’s game for Georgia, with or without Gurley. The challenge is much greater under the current circumstances, but the Bulldogs could still be in a good position this weekend despite no No. 3 in the backfield.
All they need is a win in Columbia.