In 2014, events conspired to put Nick Chubb at the forefront of the UGA offense.
An autograph dealer got Todd Gurley suspended, and an injury shelved him after that. Injuries also kept fellow freshman Sony Michel from taking too many carries away from him. The fact that the season was the year for Hutson Mason to be the started helped too. Mason was an accurate but not cannon-armed quarterback, making the run game as crucial as it gets for the Bulldog offense.
Last fall, Chubb was the SEC's second-leading rusher in total yards with 1547 and first in yards per carry at 7.06. Not bad for a guy's first college campaign.
In 2015, events might just conspire to have Chubb end up the Heisman Trophy winner.
First things first, let's go over the field. The top three vote getters from 2014 are gone, as are three more of the top 10. Another of the top ten was a linebacker (Scooby Wright), which means he won't win it this year, and another may not even start (J.T. Barrett). Only TCU's Trevone Boykin returns from last year's voting as a sure-fire top candidate.
Checking over the other players being put up for the award right now, plenty have questions about their true chances to win the thing. Ezekiel Elliott will probably end up splitting votes with whoever wins the quarterback job at OSU, and even if that spot is another rotating door, it'll inevitably command the most attention for the program. Leonard Fournette plays in a tougher division than Chubb does, and Les Miles has typically preferred to spread carries around. Derrick Henry has Lane Kiffin's track record about forgetting to run the ball to contend with, and USC's inevitable disappointment when Steve Sarkisian loses a couple games he shouldn't will submarine Cody Kessler.
I could go on, but suffice to say, the field is wide open.
Everything in Athens is lining up for Chubb to have a monster year too. The quarterback position is still unsettled after spring, though most observers expect sophomore Brice Ramsey to secure the job in the end. He has little game experience, and he'll be working under a new OC in Brian Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer didn't really prove an ability to build a consistently effective passing attack while in the NFL too. Plus, there are real questions about the depth and durability of the Georgia receiving corps.
One thing Schottenheimer did excel at was creating an effective rushing attack. Chubb figures to be the centerpiece of it in 2015 with Gurley in the NFL and Michel missing time in the spring due to injury again. Keith Marshall is trying to make a comeback, and best of luck to him, but he didn't make it through the spring unscathed either. A.J. Turman and Brendan Douglas aren't slouches, but they're not going to take many carries away from Chubb.
Oh yeah, and the Georgia offensive line is going to be deep and talented. It's legitimately one of the strengths of the team. With the passing game a question, the OL raring to go, and his best position mates having health issues, everything is setting up for Chubb to be one of the top watched players of 2015.
There is a real question about how viable running backs are as Heisman candidates anymore. Only two have won it in the past decade, with Mark Ingram winning it in 2009 and Reggie Bush taking the honor in 2005.
I understand that quarterbacks get even more attention than ever, with four of the five quarterback winners since Ingram being well used rushing options for their teams in those seasons. That said, I can easily imagine Chubb taking the honor in a similar way that Ingram did.
In 2009, Greg McElroy had a rotten October. In particular, his worst two games by passing efficiency were at Ole Miss (80.4) and against South Carolina (68.6). The Tide would have lost its perfect record that season if it was on the quarterback to win those games. Ingram came through however, ripping off 172 yards on 28 carries against the Rebels and having his Heisman Moment™ with 246 yards on 24 carries against the Gamecocks. He kept the offense afloat, and with a lack of an obvious candidate elsewhere in the country, the Tide's national championship game run was enough to propel him to the award. His 1562 yards at the time of winning make up one of the lowest totals among winners, but he still won it.
Without Gurley taking the lion's share of carries early like what happened last year, I can easily see Chubb blowing past Ingram's yardage total. I can also imagine, unfortunately, Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell getting hurt and leaving the receiving corps in a lurch. Ramsey or Faton Bauta might struggle too; you never know with first-year starters. Mark Richt has done well developing QBs, but it's a new era with Mike Bobo no longer there.
Add it up, and you've got a situation where Chubb will have to put the offense on his back like Ingram did in 2009. October might just be the month he does it, too. Beating Alabama on 10/3 would be huge, but even failing that, key East division games follow at Tennessee, against Missouri, and in Jacksonville against Florida. If UGA sweeps those with Chubb doing most of the work on offense, he might sew up the division for the Bulldogs and give them a shot at being a playoff team with a win in Atlanta.
If a year's worth of tape gives the Big 12 enough help to slow down Boykin, then we could enter November with Chubb in the Heisman driver's seat. It doesn't get easy towards the end with Auburn, Georgia Tech, and possibly the SEC Championship Game, but those huge contests give Chubb a huge stage.
It's college football, so you never can be too sure in April what might happen. I do feel secure, though, in saying that Chubb should be a serious threat to win the Heisman next fall.