Todd Gurley was a leading Heisman Trophy contender before his four-game suspension. Now that he's returning for No. 16 Georgia (No. 20 CFP, No. 16 AP) against Auburn (No. 3, No. 9) this week, it's no lock he'll even be a starter.
Gurley's replacement, Nick Chubb, has made a strong case to keep the job.
Chubb ran for 170 yards and a touchdown Saturday in a 63-31 victory over Kentucky. He had 143 or more yards in each of his four games as Gurley's replacement.
Coach Mark Richt's task of determining playing time for the tailbacks became more difficult when Sony Michel returned from a shoulder injury with 84 yards rushing against Kentucky.
Richt said Sunday he and his assistants have not picked a starting tailback against Auburn.
"We haven't even talked about that yet," Richt said. "Obviously, both those guys will play and we'll see how Sony is doing. I think he came out of the game pretty good, too. I wouldn't be surprised to see more than just Nick and Todd in the ballgame at that running back position. Early in the year we did a good job of giving guys reps and hopefully we can continue to do that."
The NCAA suspended Gurley for taking $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over two years. Georgia (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) was 3-1 without Gurley, losing to Florida two weeks ago.
Gurley's suspension, followed by Georgia's investigation of the allegations he sold autographs and its appeal for his reinstatement, overshadowed other issues for the Bulldogs for the last month. The NCAA upheld the four-game suspension on Oct. 30, when it denied Georgia's appeal to have the punishment reduced to two games.
Richt said he didn't discuss the matter with the team after the initial suspension was announced. He worked to keep the suspension from becoming a distraction and said Sunday he's relieved it's finally over.
"We're glad he's back and we're looking forward to seeing him play," Richt said. "I'll be glad to have this thing over with, no doubt."
While others have speculated it may be difficult for Richt to remove Chubb as the starter, the freshman said after Saturday's game he believes the job belongs to Gurley.
"I know I haven't taken his spot," Chubb said. "I am looking forward to Todd getting back on the field and playing with him. I miss him out there."
Chubb handled a majority share of the carries for most of Gurley's suspension. He said having Michel return after missing four games with the shoulder injury "took a lot off of my shoulders."
Now that Gurley also is back, Chubb said he's looking forward to again being part of a deep corps of running backs.
"I cannot wait," Chubb said. "It will keep all of us fresh and ready to go."
Gurley, a junior, continued to practice with the team during the suspension, though he didn't have his normal reps with the first-team offense.
Richt said he doesn't expect Gurley to have any difficulty adjusting to his first game action since Oct. 4 against Vanderbilt.
"We think he's definitely got fresh legs," Richt said. "I think he stayed in really good condition during the time he wasn't playing. I don't think you forget how to play football in five weeks or forget how to run it the way he runs it or the way he pass-protects or catches balls out of the backfield and all that. I think it'll come back to him pretty quick."