Last year produced a number of breakout stars in the SEC, with Todd Gurley being one of the most notable names that rose from the freshman ranks.
Heading into 2013, he is the best running back the conference has to offer.
Gurley signed with Georgia expecting playing time, and by the first game, he was seeing the field. Despite being coupled with fellow freshman Keith Marshall all season, Gurley finished as one of the leading backs in the conference.
He stepped away from his freshman year with 1,385 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. He also added 117 receiving yards to his stat line. Gurley had nine games with 100 or more yards rushing.
By the end of the season, he was the workhorse back and Marshall had taken a change-of-pace role inside the Bulldogs offense. Gurley received the lion’s share of the carries and that will continue this year.
The roster at Georgia is loaded with championship-level talent.
The program has the luxury of returning one of the best quarterbacks in the country next year with Aaron Murray at the helm. He has thrown for 3,000-plus yards in each season as a starter. That air attack will open up the ground game for Gurley again this fall.
The offensive line for the Bulldogs returns every starter from a year ago, but issues still lingered this spring for the experienced unit (via The Macon Telegraph). It’s still good to return that much-experienced talent, whether it is gelling in spring or not.
With Murray tossing touchdowns and an experienced line plowing rushing lanes, Gurley will be able to surpass his freshman totals with ease.
There are a lot of other talented backs, but only one comes close to challenging Gurley for the top spot.
Gurley vs. Yeldon
T.J. Yeldon is Alabama’s rising sophomore stud at running back. Last year, he burst onto the scene as a reserve to Eddie Lacy and rushed for 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 11 passes for 131 yards.
Both Gurley and Yeldon were breakout freshman stars that stole the national spotlight by the end of the season. A showdown in the SEC title game ended in a draw, with both players having huge performances.
Their stats were relatively even last fall as well. Here is a look at the totals:
The major difference is touchdowns. Gurley finished with five more scores and also added a few yards in the return game. Still, there isn’t a ton of separation.
The one point that does stick out is yards per game. Clearly, Gurley was the primary back for Georgia last year.
This is a look at total plays from 2012:
This is a major difference. Gurley was a part of 52 more plays than Yeldon last fall. That is a difference of almost five plays per game. By the end of the season, that is a substantial amount of opportunities lost by Yeldon.
Gurley is the more experienced back and has already held the primary role for his offense. Yeldon is facing that challenge for the first time this fall.
The separation is thin, but Gurley is the leader out of the SEC this year.
It Wasn’t Just a Fluke
This spring was good to Gurley. He is up six pounds to 234 and is healthy. He is expecting to have a huge sophomore year.
His quarterback expects the same. Murray had this to say about the young running back (via the Athens Banner-Herald):
I think he’s ready to take on a bigger load for all he did last year. He’s a hard working kid. He’s done a great job in practice so far. He’s not a kid that’s saying, ‘Oh, I had a great freshman year, I’m done.’ He’s out there to show everyone that it wasn’t just a fluke that he’s ready to have a great next two years because I doubt he’ll stay a third.
The Georgia offense needs for Gurley to have a great sophomore campaign. At this rate, it will happen and he will exit the year just as he entered it—as the top back in the SEC.
Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.