Entering the 2015 season, Georgia’s Nick Chubb seemed to be the best running back in the SEC. The former five-star prospect finished second in the conference in rushing yards, despite spending his first five games as a second option to Todd Gurley.
But after Gurley’s month-long suspension and eventual season-ending injury, Chubb emerged as the conference’s breakout star. He rushed for 100-plus yards in each of his final eight games and averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
There was, however, a challenger to Chubb’s spot as the conference’s top player: LSU’s Leonard Fournette. Like Chubb, Fournette was a five-star prospect from the 2014 signing class.
But the New Orleans native was the nation’s top prospect and even drew comparisons to Adrian Peterson before he even played a down of college football. Fournette had his own breakout freshman campaign, despite splitting carries with seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.
The then-freshman led the Tigers with 1,034 rushing yards, 1,786 all-purpose yards and 11 total touchdowns.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that both backs have continued to see success as sophomores and are two favorites for the Heisman Trophy. Fournette has the edge after rushing for more than 200 yards in his last three games.
“I think he’s just getting started,” Les Miles said Wednesday on the SEC’s weekly media teleconference. He has speed, but I think you’ll find that he’ll continue to develop.”
Chubb extended his streak of games with more than 100 yards to 13. By most accounts he ranked second in Heisman polls until his team’s disappointing 38-10 loss to Alabama last week.
Still, he’s managed to stay in the top 5 and could boost his stock with a big performance this weekend. So is there any doubt that the two sophomore backs’ success will continue in Week 6? It’s highly unlikely given their matchups.
Chubb will face Tennessee at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, once considered one of the most difficult road environments in college football. But the Vols have been a mess this season and are far from the team some considered to challenge Georgia for the SEC East division title.
The sophomore back should have a field day against Tennessee’s ailing defense that is without Curt Maggitt and can’t seem to decide on a middle linebacker between Colton Jumper and (the obviously superior to anyone other than Butch Jones) Darrin Kirkland Jr.
Let’s not forget that Chubb and the Bulldogs are coming off a loss that many considered to expose their flaws. Georgia will be playing like a team hungry for a redemption win and will feed the ball to its best player.
Fournette faces one of the few SEC teams with more flaws than Tennessee. The Tigers will host South Carolina in what was supposed to be a road game.
But after massive flooding in Columbia, the Gamecocks will now be forced to play in the toughest road environment in college football. That’s right, LSU gets an extra home game at Death Valley, which is fair considering its season opener at home was called off due to lightning.
And not that it matters, South Carolina has allowed more points than any defense in the SEC. The Gamecocks are averaging 25.8 points per game and a 4.9 rushing average.
What’s going to happen when you put a Heisman favorite against a defense incapable of tackling? Most likely another 200-yard performance.
Both Fournette and Chubb will have Heisman worthy performances on Saturday. They are both examples of recruiting rankings actually working given their incoming expectations and output that managed to live up to the hype.
Fournette and Chubb are capable of having big performances against any team. It doesn’t hurt that they will face two of the SEC’s lowest ranked defenses.