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Future is now for Dogs' Isaiah Crowell

Remember what a big deal Caleb King was when he signed with Georgia in 2007?

He was the top player in the state of Georgia, ranked by ESPN as the No. 7 running back prospect nationally and the MVP of the U.S. Army National Combine in San Antonio.

Go back and watch his high school tape, and you’d swear he was a can’t-miss prospect.

Well, with Friday’s news that King is academically ineligible for the 2011 season and his career at Georgia over, it’s safe to say that he did miss.

It’s also safe to say that Georgia’s latest “can’t-miss” prospect at running back absolutely can’t miss.

The Bulldogs need Isaiah Crowell to be everything he’s been advertised to be and maybe then some. And they need him to be that kind of player from the very first game on.

That’s a lot of pressure for a guy who’s heard everybody talking about how great he is, but has never played in a college game.

South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore embraced that challenge a year ago and was a big reason the Gamecocks made their first appearance in the SEC championship game.

As I told Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently, maybe Crowell is the next coming of Lattimore.

Then again, maybe he’s the next coming of King.

There’s no way of knowing at this point.

Obviously, Crowell is plenty talented, but there are so many other variables that go into being a go-to running back in this league as a true freshman.

What kind of shape did he report in? Is he mature enough to handle everything that’s going to come his way (the good and the bad), and how hard is he willing to work?

The truth is that the Bulldogs don’t have a lot of other options.

Redshirt freshman Ken Malcome is a banger who was a terror on the scout team last season. He was slowed by a groin injury in the spring, but showed his toughness by trying to practice through it as much as he could.

The Georgia coaches realize that Malcome isn’t an explosive breakaway threat, but they’re confident that he can be an effective complement to Crowell.

There’s also Branden Smith, who’s going to see his workload on offense increase this season. Smith, a starter at cornerback in nine games last season, isn’t an every-down back. But with his speed, he’s somebody the Bulldogs will move around and see to it that he gets the ball.

Junior Carlton Thomas is another option, although at 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, he’s more of a changeup.

It’s never a good combination in this league to be thin in the offensive line and thin at running back, but the Bulldogs are both.

That’s why the future is now for Crowell.

We’ll find out soon enough if he can do for Georgia what Lattimore did for South Carolina a season ago.

If so, don’t count out the Bulldogs in the Eastern Division race.