Why Georgia Has The Best Backfield In College Football
College football is an ever changing game, as playing and coaching styles have transformed over the past decades, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
Gone are the days of handing the ball off to your lonesome, big, bruising running back 30 times a game. No, now the passing game is as relevant as it has ever been, even in the Southeastern Conference, where – though play has evolved – games are still won in the trenches. However, the running game is still alive and well, and in order to pass the ball effectively, you have to be able to move the rock via the ground game as well…but having one running back just does not cut it anymore.
Think of recent college football national champions; they all had these offensive similarities: a dominant offensive line, a capable quarterback and a stable of running backs, where each ball carrier possesses different skillsets.
Looking ahead to Georgia’s 2017 football team, there are some question marks that lie within what I just listed above.
- Can UGA’s young and inexperienced offensive line, which returns only two starters from last year’s team, protect Jacob Eason and open up holes for the running game?
- Can Eason, who is now in year two at UGA, get the job done?
- Can offensive coordinator Jim Chaney find a more creative and effective way to get talented tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel the ball more often than he did last season?
Though some are listing UGA as the team who faces the toughest schedule in 2017, the Bulldogs do not need to have stellar play to make it to the SEC Championship. Instead, Georgia needs to take care of the little things. If the line can protect Eason just long enough to make the right read, and assuming he does make the right read most of the time, this team can lean on its running backs to carry them the rest of the way.
As recent history tells us in the SEC, namely Alabama, you don’t need a Cam Newton or Johnny Manziel to win the league. Instead, you need a capable quarterback who can rely on multiple running backs to get the job done and open up the passing game. Luckily for UGA, they have their share of talented backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but also in reserves Elijah Holyfield, D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien.
It’s the current trend in college football, in addition to having a dual-threat quarterback: In order to win games, you need to have at least two running backs who can compliment one another and wear down defenders. No need to put all the workload on one player when you can spread the love around an entire backfield of two or three ball carriers. Also, it keeps your backs fresh not only for the game at hand, but for the duration of the entire season.
When I look at the top running back tandems of 2017, the SEC jumps out at me, as each of the following teams listed have a real argument for having the nation’s top running back group. Here are my top five backfields – in alphabetical order – for the upcoming season.
- Alabama, who is absolutely loaded with Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, B.J. Emmons, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson. Not to mention quarterback Jalen Hurts who rushed for 954 yards as a true freshman last year.
- Auburn, who has Heisman hopeful Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson.
- Georgia, who with seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel may possess the nation’s top backfield.
- LSU, who fields arguably the nation’s top back in Derrius Guice along with Darrell Williams.
- Penn State, who returns Saquan Barkley – considered by many as the nation’s best running back – and Miles Sanders.
The question of “who has college football’s best running back group?” is a tough one to answer. There are three ways to interpret this inquiry.
- One way to look at it is by taking into account pure skill…taking the word “best” literally.
- Another way to answer this question is by taking into consideration how the backs compliment one another. Think Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, a classic “smash and dash” duo. How does one player’s skillset compliment the other’s?
- However, there is another method we can use to provide an answer to this question. By taking into account both method No. 1 and No. 2, we can determine college football’s true number one backfield.
As mentioned previously, there is a lot of talent returning to college football in 2017 at the running back position. Alabama can hand the ball off to any number of ball carriers, but could things get a little too crowded down there in Tuscaloosa?
In Auburn, the Tigers have a nice combination of speed and power in Pettway and Johnson, and they certainly challenge Georgia as having the nation’s best backfield.
Once again, a lot of great combinations this season, but when combining pure talent and how the player’s compliment one another, look no further than Athens, Georgia, where you will find college football’s best ball carriers.
Prior to going down with a nasty knee injury in 2015, Nick Chubb was, without question, the best running back in all of college football. The Cedartown, Georgia product gains his yards by lowering his shoulder and running the defender into the ground. After a freshman season in which he rushed for 1,547 yards, Chubb was prepared to break that mark the following year until injuring his knee. Unfortunately, it was evident that Chubb was not himself last season, as he lacked that spark that we saw prior to the injury. However, he was still a do-it-all back. Last year’s offseason was one in which Chubb had one thing in mind: rehabbing that injured knee. This offseason, that knee is history. Chubb has had the last eight months to focus on improving as a football player, rather than focusing on just the injured knee. Considering he still put up over 1,100 yards last season, opposing linebackers should be shaking knowing that Chubb is back to 100% and ready to return to his freshman and sophomore form.
On the other hand, we have the more versatile and elusive (yet powerful) Sony Michel, who, in Chubb’s absence, rushed for 1,100 yards as a sophomore. Michel is simply a damn good football player. The Fort Lauderdale native can line up just about anywhere on the field and he can not only run around you, but run through you as well.
As we saw in 2012 with Gurley and Marshall, the classic “smash and dash” duo is not always the ultimate answer. In the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, it was clear that Marshall did not bring enough “smash” to the table to produce against the Crimson Tide defense and could not help to take the load off of Todd Gurley.
What is great about the Chubb and Michel combo is that the “smash and dash” aspect is still there, but I prefer to look at it as more of a “smash, dash and then smash some more,” type of tandem.