To say that Georgia running back Todd Gurley impressed the college football world in his first season between the hedges would be quite an understatement.
In 2012, the true freshman from Tarboro, N.C. rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns, leading the SEC's third-best offense to the SEC Championship Game and within five yards of a BCS National Championship Game appearance.
The breakout campaign has Gurley featured prominently in preseason prognostications. Sporting News ranked him as the third-best player in the country ahead of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and CBSSports.com has him on its early Heisman watch list.
Gurley is certainly deserving of preseason accolades, but let's pump the brakes a bit.
Being ranked as the third-best player in the country would almost guarantee that he'd not only be a Heisman dark-horse contender, but a favorite for the award.
That'd be a stretch.
While Clowney, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee and others will be in the mix, Gurley's primary competition will be lining up in front of him—Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
Gurley may do the dirty work, but Murray gets the glory. He set single-season school records with 35 and 36 touchdowns in 2011 and 12, respectively, and came within an eyelash of winning the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) passer rating title, finishing 0.46 rating points behind Alabama's AJ McCarron (175.28-174.82).
Murray finds himself in the top five favorites for the award according to most online sportsbooks, including Bovada.lv.
For any Georgia player to be in the mix for the Heisman, the Bulldogs need to be in the discussion for the SEC and national titles. Can you imagine a scenario where Murray isn't a big part of that equation? I can't.
At best, Gurley would split votes. Even that may be generous, considering the person he'd be splitting them with is a veteran at a glamor position.
But while Gurley will be fighting an uphill battle, fellow running back Keith Marshall will still be worked into the lineup early and often. Marshall rushed for 759 yards and eight touchdowns in his true freshman campaign in 2012 and led the SEC in rushes of 50 or more yards (four).
Gurley may have a Heisman moment or two, but so will Marshall.
When we're talking Heisman voting, that's a pretty big hurdle to overcome. It could and probably would plant enough doubt in voters to knock him down a spot or two.
Gurley is a great—and I do mean great—running back and will certainly be a major contributor for the Bulldogs.
But is he a Heisman contender? I don't see it yet. He's fighting an uphill battle with an established superstar quarterback on his team and a talented running back in the same backfield.