The fate of the University of Georgia's 2015 season falls on the legs of standout running back Nick Chubb following his superb freshman year in Athens, Georgia.
The Georgia Bulldogs finished 10-3 last season following a 37-14 victory over the Louisville Cardinals in the Belk Bowl. Chubb carried the ball 33 times for 266 yards and two touchdowns on that day.
In order for the Bulldogs to finish above the Missouri Tigers in the SEC East and challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff, Georgia needs the 5'10", 228-pound tailback to run rampant all season long.
Georgia returns an even more experienced and dominant defense with the return of stalwart linebackers Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's side of the ball should continue to be at the top of the ranks in the SEC.
The real problem falls in replacing the production of several key offensive players who are no longer with the Bulldogs following the 2014 season. The man to fill these voids is the likely preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Chubb.
The Cedartown, Georgia, native showed explosion and power throughout his first season, which made college football fans' mouths water across the country. The halfback's ability to turn the corner and his determination to cross into the end zone were on clear display against Florida last year.
Under head coach Mark Richt, the Bulldogs average nearly 480 rushing attempts per year. Chubb received 219 carries in his freshman campaign, but that total is definitely going to increase next season with the departure of Todd Gurley. The likely future first-round pick compiled 123 carries in his suspension- and injury-riddled 2014 season.
Since Richt's arrival in 2001, there have only been two seasons in which one running back accounted for more than 50% of Georgia's team rushing attempts. However, when Gurley was out of the lineup last year, Chubb was responsible for just under 57% of the team's carries, and the workload is not likely to be any more balanced this upcoming season, according to Bleacher Report's Andrew Hall.
"The state of Georgia's backfield lends itself to a disproportionately large concentration on Chubb," Hall said. "Put bluntly: It's hard to quantify exactly how valuable Georgia's other options will be in 2015."
Fellow rising sophomore Sony Michel contributed 410 yards and five touchdowns in 2014 but appeared in only eight games for the Bulldogs.
The other running back likely to share some of work is Keith Marshall, but his health is far from reliable at this point. Marshall was the second-ranked running back in the 2012 recruiting class, the same class as Gurley, and rushed for 759 yards and eight touchdowns his freshman year. However, the talented prospect has not re-established himself in the Georgia backfield since suffering a knee injury in the middle of the 2013 season.
On top of replacing Gurley, the Bulldogs will also have to replace last year's starting quarterback, Hutson Mason. The graduating senior was the latest of a long line of stellar Georgia quarterbacks including Aaron Murray and Matthew Stafford.
There is no clear replacement for Mason, as Brice Ramsey, Faton Bauta and Jacob Park are battling to become the team's head signal-caller. This transformation could affect the Bulldog's play-calling next season, but last year's Belk Bowl provided some insight into the mindset of Richt.
Mason left the game in the in the second quarter due to injury, leaving the Georgia head coach without a reliable quarterback. In this situation, he decided to go back to old faithful.
The Bulldogs ran the ball on 68 percent of their offensive plays and averaged 5.5 yards per attempt against Louisville's second-ranked rush defense, per Bleacher Report's Ben Kercheval.
"With a new quarterback under center—freshman Brice Ramsey filled in for an injured Mason—there should be a heavy lean on the run game," Kercheval said.
"It's what Georgia does best anyway. In fact, there's a case to be made that Georgia shouldn't attempt a pass under any circumstance. Ever.”
The Bulldogs ran the ball an astounding 555 times for 3,352 yards compared to throwing 322 passes to gain 2,599 yards in the air last season. With the uncertainty at quarterback, Georgia could rely even more heavily on the running game next year.
The question is whether Chubb can remain healthy throughout the entire season. The running back is working hard this offseason to best prepare his body for the punishment it will endure next year.
Based on the total number of carries for Georgia in 2014, Chubb will tote the rock an absurd 316 times if he continues to carry the ball 57% of the time in Gurley's absence.
Chubb underwent surgery last season to fix a broken thumb but remained relatively healthy otherwise. However, carrying the ball as many times as Richt and the coaching staff will probably like may be too much work for any running back to withstand.
Chubb's ability to continue to produce and remain healthy while his body racks up more miles will make or break Georgia's 2015 campaign. A standout season by the rising sophomore will help nullify the questions surrounding other positions for the Bulldogs.