To win in the SEC you must have a stable of capable running backs. This conference is bigger, faster and more physical than any other conference in college football. As a result, no one running back (not named Hershel Walker) can carry his team through a whole season undefeated. There are other qualities that a team must have, but a strong running game is a necessity.
This has been a major issue for the University of Georgia since the end of the 2007 season. In 2006, the Georgia Bulldogs had four running backs on the roster that would go on to play in the NFL with Knowshon Moreno, Kregg Lumpkin, Thomas Brown and Danny Ware. At the conclusion of that season Ware would declare early for the NFL draft because of the gridlock in the roster.
The 2007 campaign would prove to be a great season for the Bulldogs as they finished the season ranked No. 2 in the nation. Brown and Moreno would lead the way for Georgia, combining for 2,450 yards and 26 touchdowns.
At the end of that season, however, the Bulldogs lost Lumpkin and Brown to the NFL.
That left Moreno, now a redshirt sophomore, as the only proven running back on the roster. The Bulldogs did have two 5-star running back recruits on the roster in Caleb King and Richard Samuel. The problem is that both players had issues that would keep them from being contributors. King was coming off a major leg injury his senior season in high school and he never fully recovered from it.
Samuel had, and still posses, tremendous talent. However, he was 16 when he enrolled at UGA and his position was unknown because they did not know what type of player he would be at 20. Had Samuel played linebacker from the start, he might be an All-American candidate this season. Instead, he has been the greatest victim of the running back issues at Georgia over the last three seasons.
Georgia entered the 2008 season ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation. However, injuries piled up at a record pace and the lost of Lumpkin and Brown to the NFL effected Georgia greatly. Moreno had a great season with 1,400 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, but King and Samuel only gained 380 yards combined. The Bulldogs would finish a disappointing 10-3 on the season.
At the end of the season the other shoe hit the floor. Moreno would declare for the NFL draft despite having two years of eligibility left.
During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, no two running backs could combine to match what Moreno did alone in 2008 and were not even in the same zip code of what Brown and Moreno did together.
Then in 2011, it seemed that the Bulldogs had finally found a running back who would break the 1,000-yard mark for the first time since the departure of Moreno. However, injuries and discipline issues would leave freshman sensation Isaiah Crowell short with only 850 yards.
Georgia once again had major depth issues this past season as they had to turn to walk on players at times. Fortunately, for the Bulldogs, redshirt freshman Ken Malcome worked his way out of the doghouse and have two solid games to finish the season.
It appeared that Georgia might have a solid one-two punch in the backfield again. However, both of those players have served suspensions for off-field issues and head coach Mark Richt knew he needed more depth—and he got it in a big way.
Richt was able to sign Keith Marshall, who was ranked as the No. 1 running back prospect in the nation by Scout.com. Not only does Marshall have elite talent on the field but he is equally amazing off the field.
He might be the only player in the nation who has a higher GPA than he once was clocked in the 40 yard dash. Marshall graduated in December with a 4.29 GPA and once was clocked at 4.25 in the 40-yard dash at the University of North Carolina.
Despite landing the No. 1 running back in the nation in consecutive recruiting classes, Richt and the coaching staff were not done. They would later add Todd Gurley to the 2012 signing class.
Gurley's stock skyrocketed after he rushed for over 240 yards and scored four touchdowns in the North Carolina state championship game despite playing on a high ankle sprain. He followed up that game with an amazing showing in the Shrine Bowl where he rushed for 119 yards on 19 carries and scored two touchdowns to earn North Carolina Offensive MVP.
Rivals ranks Gurley as the No. 5 running back prospect in the nation, and 247 sports ranks him as the No. 6 running back prospect in the nation.
What makes these additions so special for Bulldogs fans is they added two top-five running back recruits with high character who are not afraid of competition.
Will Crowell, Malcome, Marshall and Gurley become the new “Four Horsemen” for Georgia? Time will tell. However, it is now safe to say that Georgia will not have to turn to a walk-on if one of these players are injured or dismissed from the team.
Players rarely reach their full potential if they never have to face competition—the bar just raised in Athens!