Mark Bradley

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gurley's gone again, but UGA is different


Todd Gurley's comeback was also his farewell. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC photo)

A bit of perspective. When Todd Gurley was lost to suspension on Oct. 9, we wondered if Georgia would win another game. (Actually, we assumed the Bulldogs would beat Charleston Southern, but nothing else seemed a given.) The same Todd Gurley having been lost to a torn ACL, we wonder what it will take to propel those same Bulldogs -- the same but different -- into the College Football Playoff.

In the four games Gurley missed due to suspension, Georgia proved it wasn't just a one-man team but a very good team. (OK, so Florida was the exception. But let's call it the exception that proves the new rule.) Nick Chubb established himself as the nation's best No. 2 back and among the finest No. 1s, and the rest of the team grew up with him. On Saturday, the night of Gurley's ballyhooed return, the effect was spectacular. Georgia scored 34 points without strain. Auburn, which usually scores a lot of points, managed seven.

It's hard to imagine a team profiting from the loss of the nation's best player, but Georgia did. The two games prior to Gurley's suspension -- Tennessee and Vandy -- were essentially bravura solo turns. Everything since has been a function of the collective. Even when Georgia collapsed in Jacksonville, it was an across-the-board failure. (Chubb lost a fumble, and his coaches forgot about him after the first quarter.)

We'll wonder forever if going five weeks without playing a real game had an effect on Gurley getting hurt in the fourth quarter against Auburn, but that's a forever-unknowable. He'd been practicing all along, and the early kickoff return (undone by penalty) indicated he was primed for his return. This is football. Guys get hurt.

It was his 29th carry of the night, the most of 2014 and the second-most of his collegiate career, but Chubb had 38 totes against Missouri and 30 against Arkansas and appears robust. We can quibble about Gurley being in the game with Georgia leading by 20 points with 5:21 remaining, but that's the merest of quibbles. Somebody had to carry the ball there. (Lest we forget, Georgia had overcome a 20-point deficit at Auburn last season, though not with so little time remaining.)

Would Chubb have gotten hurt if he'd been handed the ball instead? (He was on the next play and scored a touchdown.) Would losing Chubb have been preferable to losing Gurley? We say again: This is football; guys get hurt. Teams and seasons move on.

For this team and this season, there remains one Gurley-related question: Will the playoff committee think less of the Bulldogs without the nation's best player? We've seen such a thing happen in basketball. Kenyon Martin, the nation's best player, broke his ankle against St. Louis in the 2000 Conference USA tournament, and Cincinnati, which figured to be the No. 1 overall seed, was dropped to a No. 2. (It lost in Round 2 to Tulsa.)

There are only four seeds in the football playoff. This being the inaugural edition, the committee has no history regarding major injuries. We can't know whether Georgia -- assuming Missouri loses and the Bulldogs win the East and then the SEC championship -- will be relegated No. 5 or lower in the final rankings because Gurley is unavailable. But when Gurley was lost in October, we had no reason to believe Georgia could remain part of such a discussion. There's reason now.


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About the Author

Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.