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Todd Gurley's Suspension Significantly Impacts Heisman, Playoff and SEC Title Picture

Todd Gurley

Todd Gurley

Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely as a result of a NCAA investigation. The junior is under investigation for exchanging his autograph and use of likeness in exchange for compensation.

Gurley’s suspension is indefinite, so it’s hard to gauge how long the junior running back will be sidelined. However, make no mistake: Gurley is one of the nation’s best players and was considered the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. This is a huge loss for the Bulldogs.

In five games this year, Gurley has recorded 773 yards and eight rushing scores on 94 attempts. Gurley averaged 8.2 yards per carry in 2014 and added a kickoff return for a touchdown against Clemson.

There’s no doubt Georgia is going to miss Gurley. But how big of a loss is the junior? Let’s dive into the implications and what it means for the Bulldogs.

Impact of Gurley's Suspension on SEC East 

The favorite for the SEC East is really anyone’s guess. Missouri is the only unbeaten team within the division (1-0), and Georgia, Florida and Kentucky all sit at 2-1 after three conference games.

While it’s possible Gurley could return after just a couple of games, his absence this Saturday will be felt. Georgia travels to Missouri to take on the Tigers, in what should be one of the SEC’s marquee games. The winner of Saturday’s matchup should take an early lead in the East Division.

The schedule for Georgia doesn’t get any easier next week, as the Bulldogs travel to Little Rock to take on Arkansas, and play Florida on Nov. 1.

Again, it’s possible Gurley is back in a couple of games, but if Georgia has two or three SEC losses, it’s tough to see this team getting back in the mix for the conference title.

Even though Gurley is out, the Bulldogs aren’t in major trouble against Missouri. This roster still has plenty of talent, starting with a stout front seven on defense, and the passing attack should improve with receiver Malcolm Mitchell returning.

Outside of Vanderbilt, it’s too early to eliminate any team in the East Division conversation. But Georgia’s division title hopes look grim without Gurley in the lineup.

Who Replaces Gurley?

Georgia’s backfield was touted as one of the best in the nation in most preseason unit rankings. But injuries have altered the outlook for this unit. Junior Keith Marshall is dealing with a sprained ankle and knee and will miss his third consecutive game. Freshman Sony Michel ranks third on the team with 223 yards and averaged 9.7 yards per carry, but he’s dealing with a shoulder injury and is likely to be out until November.

With the injuries to Marshall and Michel, a backfield that was overflowing with depth is down to freshman Nick Chubb. The Georgia native ranked as the No. 5 running back in the 2014 signing class by 247Sports and has 224 yards and two scores on 31 attempts.

Chubb is clearly set to become the No. 1 back for coach Mark Richt, with Brendan Douglas also expected to work into the backfield.

It’s a longshot, but freshman all-purpose threat Isaiah McKenzie could see more snaps in the backfield. Depth is limited, so McKenzie and Douglas will be the top options to spell Chubb.

Considering the Bulldogs are down on depth at running back, this is where the offense needs a big effort from quarterback Hutson Mason to compensate for a rushing game that won’t be as potent.

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Heisman Hopes Over?

In Athlon’s expert poll following the games from Week 6, Gurley ranked as the favorite for the Heisman. The junior recorded 59 points to Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott’s 55, while Gurley had an eight to five edge on first-place votes.

Barring a last-minute turnaround, Gurley won’t play against Missouri and his Heisman hopes are likely finished.

If Gurley’s Heisman hopes are indeed over, it’s a wide-open race for the No. 1 spot. Prescott would slide into the favorite spot by default, but this opens the door for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Notre Dame signal-caller Everett Golson and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.

The halfway point of the college season officially arrives after Week 7. And if Prescott and Mississippi State loses to Auburn, it’s fair to say there is no clear frontrunner and the Heisman is really up for grabs in the final eight weeks.

Playoff Impact

Georgia did not receive a vote in Athlon’s playoff projection following the games from Week 6.

However, the Bulldogs were squarely on the radar as a team that could play their way into contention with just one loss.

But as we mentioned above, it’s going to be significantly tougher to go into Missouri and win without the best player in the SEC.

If Georgia loses this Saturday, it seems likely Mark Richt’s team won’t be able to make the playoffs.