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Georgia running back Zamir White will return for 2021.

The Zamir White announcement illustrates how much college football has changed since 2017

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The Zamir White announcement illustrates how much college football has changed since 2017

The Georgia football program is in a very different place now than it was when Nick Chubb and Sony Michel made the same decision that Zamir White and James Cook did.

Related: Zamir to return to Georgia football for 2021 season

Cook and White have now both announced they would be returning for their fourth years in Athens, much like how Chubb and Michel did in December of 2016. Cook and White both have cases to be made as draftable running backs this year, just as Chubb and Michel could’ve been taken in the 2017 NFL Draft had they elected to pursue that path.

Chubb and Michel though were not done with Georgia and wanted to improve off an eight-win season in 2016. Even if they never said it out loud, they still had unfinished business with the Georgia program.

Chubb ran for 1,345 yards as a senior and 15 rushing touchdowns. Michel had 1,227 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. The Bulldogs won the SEC and played for a national title. The two running backs were the face of the Georgia program that surged in year two under Kirby Smart.

Those two running backs were ultimately rewarded for their extra year in Athens. Michel was taken with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. He won a Super Bowl and scored a touchdown in said Super Bowl as a rookie.

Chubb went to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 35 pick in that same draft. He’s topped 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons and led the Browns to their first playoff win in over 25 years.

We’ll get to see what White and Cook both end up doing in the 2021 season for Georgia. But we already know that the need for these two Georgia running backs to be great is not the same as it was during the 2017 season.

For one, the game of college football has changed considerably in recent years. To win at the highest level, you need great quarterback and wide receiver play to win it all, as demonstrated by Clemson, LSU and Alabama in the past three seasons.

Those three teams all had great running backs in Travis Etienne, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Najee Harris. In their respective title games, only Edwards-Helaire had more than 100 rushing yards. Conversely, Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow and Mac Jones all threw for at least 340 yards and three touchdowns.

Chubb and Michel had to play with Jake Fromm, a freshman, in 2017. The running backs had to shine to open things up for Fromm as he became accustomed to the college game.

White and Cook will not have to carry the same burden next season as the Bulldogs bring back JT Daniels at quarterback. Daniels was the first Georgia player to announce he had unfinished business this offseason.

Daniels is a big reason why many have high expectations for the Bulldogs in 2021. He went 4-0 as a starter for Georgia in 2020, tossing 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions. For a Georgia program that has struggled at the quarterback position, Daniels seems like the answer the Bulldogs have long needed.

The Bulldogs also return all of their top receiving options as well. Cook showed his pass-catching skills during the 2020 season. Now he’ll get to do that again with George Pickens, Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson and others returning in 2021.

With all the potential passing game excitement, Georgia though won’t abandon the run. In their final three games of the season, Georgia still ran the ball on 57 percent of their offensive players.

As explosive as Alabama was this season, Harris still ranked second in the SEC on a rushing yards per game basis and had 26 rushing touchdowns. Early in the national championship game against Ohio State, the Crimson Tide faced two fourth-down situations. Both times Alabama gave the ball to Harris and both times he converted.

White was Georgia’s leading rusher in 2020, picking up 779 rushing yards and scoring 11 rushing touchdowns. He’s also not Georgia’s only quality running back as the Bulldogs have Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton waiting in the wings.

But Georgia didn’t just feed Chubb and Michel in 2017 either. Freshman D’Andre Swift finished with 618 yards that season.

White and Cook will be leaders for the Georgia program, as Chubb and Michel were back in 2017. None of those four players are the most vocal of players, as they fit the lead-by-example model. Cook and White will set a strong example for the 2021 team.

Georgia is a better team and a big winner with White and Cook in the fold. They have a bruising runner who has continued to get better since recovering from his multiple knee injuries in White. Cook has shown against elite-competition he can be a difference-maker, such as the Alabama game this past season.

Georgia’s two fourth-year running backs will have a huge impact on the 2021 team. If the Bulldogs are to accomplish their goals in 2021 — winning a championship — White and Cook will go a long way in helping Georgia get there.

But the Bulldogs don’t need them to be the focal point of the team. It’s why the announcements of White and Cook aren’t seen as the absolute win that Daniels was.

Chubb and Michel are two of the best players to ever play for the Georgia program. They’re icons.

White and Cook aren’t that for Georgia. But they’re still very, very good players and Georgia is going to need plenty of those if it is to win it all in 2021.

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