Our SEC reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They will have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which reporter is right.
Now that the SEC's 2014 football season is officially over (ummm, Alabama??), it's time to start thinking and talking about 2015. And next season could be the year of the sophomore, especially at running back. There are a handful of talented, young running backs, but two stand out above the rest.
Take one, Sam Khan: Forget the ridiculous hype and virtually impossible-to-meet expectations that accompanied Leonard Fournette's recruitment. I present to you, my opening argument:
Say what you will about the Texas A&M defense, but Howard Matthews is a hard hitter and a good inside-the-box safety. What Fournette did to him just ain’t right.
Peel back the hype that surrounded Fournette and you will find an emerging star, one that had to go through a stronger SEC West (no matter what the bowl record might say).
Did you watch the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl against Notre Dame? The one where he ran for 143 yards and two touchdowns and returned a kickoff 100 yards for another touchdown, and was clearly the best player on the field? Yeah, that guy is just getting started.
Fournette wasn’t asked to carry a heavy load early on this season; he had the benefit of veterans in his backfield like Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard. LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron eased Fournette into things, and by midseason he found his footing. That will serve him well going into 2015, as the 19-year-old didn’t have to get beat up between the tackles as much as Chubb, who had 32 more carries than Fournette.
Are his numbers as gaudy as Chubb’s? No. Chubb didn’t have to face Alabama. Or Mississippi State. Or Ole Miss. Those three were the SEC’s best teams, ranked 1, 7 and 9, respectively, by the College Football Playoff selection committee at regular-season’s end. So that certainly plays a role in the statistical discrepancy between the two in SEC play.
Fournette saved his best for last, though, surpassing 140 yards in each of his final two games despite having only 30 combined carries in those two games. If he had another couple games to play, I have a feeling he would do much of the same. This isn’t about who was better in 2014. It’s who will be better in 2015. And Fournette has the look of a running back who will be a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy. Imagine if the LSU offense around Fournette can get it together and improve, particularly at quarterback, next season. That would make him even more difficult to defend.
Let me put it this way: If both backs were eligible to be drafted by the NFL today and you were a general manager, which back are you picking first? Give me Fournette, who is built like a linebacker but runs like a receiver. Good luck stopping that next season, SEC.
Take two, Edward Aschoff: Like Sam, I was mesmerized by all the glitz and glamour surrounding Fournette before and after he stepped on LSU’s campus. And though I think Fournette will be nothing short of a star in the SEC, I’m taking Chubb yesterday, today, tomorrow and a week from next Tuesday.
The 5-foot-10, 228-pound block of rock with tornado-churning legs was arguably -- no, easily -- the nation’s best running back 2014.
With Todd Gurley still in Athens, Chubb was supposed to be a fun side act to watch and wonder what could be. Instead, he quickly shredded that title and looked like an All-Pro with his 1,547 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. Only Herschel Walker had a better freshman season at Georgia, and Chubb's 14 touchdowns tied for the league lead.
Did you see this kid miss?
Thanks to an NCAA suspension and an ACL injury, Chub started the Bulldogs’ final eight games, rushing for at least 113 yards in every contest. And those 113 yards came in a rout of Charleston Southern in which he carried the ball just nine times. With his elite vision, quickness, burst, toughness, strength and endurance, Chubb, who is both elusive and a downhill runner, averaged a league-high 7.1 yards per carry (6.7 vs. the SEC). He eventually set the SEC bowl record of 266 yards on 33 carries in Georgia’s win against Louisville, which owned a top-10 rush defense, in the Belk Bowl.
Fournette had just five 100-yard games and averaged just 75.9 yards per game in SEC play, and just 62.2 yards in losses. In Georgia’s two losses with Chubb starting, he averaged 142.5 yards, meaning he always showed up.
There is a reason LSU had to spell Fournette at times. Also, Georgia’s coaches knew to get Chubb the ball as much as possible. They weren’t afraid to let their freshman do work ...
Trucking Texas A&M defenders? Please, Chubb does that in his sleep ... with Fournette latched to his back. I’ve heard Chubb hunts his own food and eats it on site. He’s more ManBearPig than human, and will only get better, and better.