There’s no doubt that Nick Chubb and Sony Michel finished their college careers as two of UGA football fans’ favorite Dawgs.
The record-setting backfield tandem bucked what’s become standard college football practice by turning down the chance to go pro after their junior seasons, instead returning as seniors to lead Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs to a Rose Bowl championship and within an eyelash of a national title. For that alone, they’ll always be remembered with great affection.
But, in addition to being fan favorites, Chubb and Michel have some pretty impressive bona fides when it comes to their place among the all-time Bulldogs backs. Chubb ranks No. 2 in school history for rushing yards, and Michel is No. 3. Together, they have the most combined yards of any duo in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history. And, Chubb ranks second in SEC history in rushing yards, trailing only Bulldogs legend Herschel Walker.
It’s a given that Walker, who was part of a national championship team his freshman season, won the Heisman Trophy, and had 5,259 career rushing yards in three years at UGA, is the school’s all-time greatest back. Heck, I think you can make a convincing case he’s the greatest college football running back ever.
Where, however, do Chubb and Michel fall in the ranks behind No. 34 among UGA backs? Ahead of, or behind, Todd Gurley? What about Knowshon Moreno and Garrison Hearst? Or, Rodney Hampton, Lars Tate or Tim Worley?
(Most of us around today never got to see in action the Georgia running greats of an earlier era, Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi, and those two 1940s superstars didn’t play against the size players that current backs do. So, it’s difficult to say how they’d rank against more recent backs. You almost have to limit the discussion to the “modern” era, starting in 1964. Or maybe just post-Walker.)
Any way you look at it, ranking UGA’s all-time greatest running backs is a subjective undertaking. Do you go strictly on the basis of talent? Or must results (including championships) figure into it?
Certainly, Chubb merits serious consideration with Gurley for the spot right behind Walker in the Bulldogs’ rushing pantheon, even though he somehow never made it onto a postseason All-America team — a fact that Rivals’ Patrick Garbin pointed out will keep Chubb from ever being considered for the College Football Hall of Fame.
Back in December, USA Today’s Dan Wolken called Chubb “college football’s most unfairly overlooked superstar,” and I’d agree with that.
I think one likely reason Chubb never was named to an All-America team is that he always shared duties with other terrific backs. For much of his freshman year, there was Gurley, and Chubb’s entire career also saw him sharing time with Michel. Plus, it took most of his junior season for Chubb to really come back fully from a devastating left knee injury, and he had to do so behind a truly awful offensive line.
Meanwhile, Michel, who did admirably as Georgia’s starting tailback during Chubb’s convalescence, eventually elevated himself from change-of-pace back to practically co-starter. And, by the end of their senior seasons, Michel actually was the more versatile of the two, a fact borne out by the fact that most NFL experts think he’ll go before Chubb in the draft.
Still, Chubb had quite a few awesome days in a Georgia uniform, piling up 24 career games with more than 100 yards rushing. Chubb and his roomie and best friend, Michel, both ended the 2017 season with more than 1,000 rushing yards — the first time UGA ever had two running backs achieve that feat in the same season.
Chubb had three 1,000-yard seasons at Georgia (and, if not for tearing up his knee, no doubt would have had four). He finished with 4,769 career rushing yards. Michel had two 1,000-yard seasons and 3,613 career yards.
Looking at their entire careers, I’d give the edge to Chubb; in their final season, though, I’d have to go with Michel.
Let’s not forget about Gurley, though. He overcame a couple of major injuries, and, had he not been suspended for four games in 2014, he probably would have been the Heisman winner that season. His numbers for not quite three seasons of work are pretty crazy: In 30 games, he racked up 3,285 yards, which puts him ahead of Garrison Hearst (3,232). But, having missed large chunks of two of his three UGA seasons, can Gurley really be ranked above Hearst?
Three years ago, after Gurley had finished his career at UGA, I asked a number of fans where they’d rank him among Georgia’s greatest backs, and I heard a lot of hedging about the amount of playing time Gurley missed because of injuries and his suspension. Plus, some fans noted, Georgia didn’t win any titles during Gurley’s time. Most fans agreed he was the most talented back since Walker, but a few found his body of work a little lacking.
Still, if you rank them on the basis of sheer talent, Gurley, now a very productive back in the NFL (rookie of the year in his first season and twice a Pro Bowl selection so far), pretty clearly ranks second only to Herschel among UGA backs.
However, Chubb and Michel proved more durable and helped Georgia achieve greater glory, including a Rose Bowl championship in the College Football Playoff.
So, I’d rank Gurley, Chubb and Michel all together on the second level behind Walker.
I’d put Hearst next, followed by Moreno, Hampton, Worley, Tate, Musa Smith and Robert Edwards.
That’s a lot of running back talent; no wonder UGA sometimes is called Tailback U. And, who knows, maybe a few years down the road we’ll be revisiting this discussion, to figure out where D’Andre Swift ranks among the all-time UGA running back greats. Or, perhaps, Zamir White.
In the meantime, where do you think Chubb and Michel rank all-time among the Dawgs’ running backs?
Will UGA spend big bucks on basketball?
I take no satisfaction from Mark Fox getting the chop as Georgia’s basketball coach, despite the fact I agreed it was time for a change.
As I wrote in mid-February, I’ve always liked Fox. Not just the fact that he ran a clean program, graduated his players and represented Georgia with class, but also the way he seemed to embrace UGA wholeheartedly, despite not being an alum. He qualified as a Damn Good Dawg ever since that day he painted up and joined the spike squad in the stands at Sanford Stadium to cheer on the football Bulldogs.
Now that the Fox era in Athens has ended, my main concern is whether the UGA athletic administration really will step up and treat the hiring of a new basketball coach with the same sort of priority it gives just about every aspect of football these days.
Instead of going the mid-major route again for a coach, or hiring an assistant who’s never run a program, I’d like to see UGA spend the money necessary to get a top-level coach with a proven track record.
As my brother Tim texted me Saturday, it’d be nice if one of the outcomes of the recent large boost in football ticket prices was UGA spending major dollars on a basketball coach, “now that we have millionaires for assistant football coaches.” (Mel Tucker makes $1.5 million a year, and Jim Chaney is just under $1 million.)
After all, one of athletic director Greg McGarity’s justifications for the football price hike was to note that football pays the bills, and “this was a way to fully fund those other sports at the same level.”
Without that sort of financial commitment, I’m afraid Georgia basketball will continue to be seen as a middling program overshadowed by football — the sort of reputation that hasn’t attracted many blue-chip recruits to play in Athens.
One caveat, though: With that FBI investigation looming over college basketball, the new UGA coach needs to be not just a proven winner, but also known for running a squeaky-clean program.
Please, no more damaged goods like Rick Pitino; we’ve been down that road before with Jim Harrick.