Gurley’s decision to play, first step in mending deplorable suspension

Once suspended, Georgia running back Todd Gurley could have left school to prepare for the NFL draft. But his return to finish the season shows he's looking to make amends.

Daniel Shirey/Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

When Todd Gurley was suspended for accepting money for his autograph, he made a sideshow of the Georgia football season. Less important was a possible run for an SEC crown or the College Football Playoff, the focus shifted to how long Gurley should be punished, and if eligible to return, should he.

Gurley’s four-game suspension has been fulfilled. When Georgia hosts Auburn on Saturday, the Dawgs’ former Heisman front-runner can cleat up. And he will.

Georgia head coach Mark Right wasted no time laying out the game plan for Gurley’s return in regard to playing time. He obviously didn’t want the question of when, and how much, to get anywhere close to center stage.

"First offensive play, you’ll see Gurley," Richt said during his radio show on Monday. "I can promise you that. Todd Gurley is the starting tailback."

We know Gurley will be on the field for the first snap. What we don’t know is how much he’ll be used in a Georgia offense that didn’t get sluggish at all during his absence.

If you’re predicting snap counts or planning to chart the division of touches between Gurley and freshman sensation Nick Chubb — who averaged 167.8 yards per game during Gurley’s suspension — you’re focus isn’t targeted in the right place.

Instead, ponder this — at least until game time: Why did Gurley return to the field at all?

At 7-2 (5-2 in the SEC), Georgia’s hope for a College Football Playoff invite isn’t quite as remote as Tom Hanks’ and his pet volleyball on a deserted island, but the Dawgs need some help (namely a Missouri loss) and a number of huge wins to launch their campaign for consideration.

If the idea of Georgia playing in a super-significant game after the regular season is so far-fetched, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Gurley to declare his intentions for the NFL draft and get to work on bolstering his draft stock?

The NFL has been devoid of a first-round running back selection for two years. Trent Richardson (Browns, third overall), Doug Martin (Buccaneers, 31st overall) and David Wilson (Giants, 32nd overall) were all first-round selections in the 2012 draft. But they were the last running backs taken early in an every-growing pass-happy NFL.

Gurley is expected to alter that trend.

Not only should the Georgia running back be a first- rounder in 2015, he could likely land with an NFL team within the first 10 picks of the draft.

In consideration of his future in the NFL, it absolutely makes more sense for Gurley to leave school, hire an agent and take a short-term loan to pay for training and a media blitz to improve his draft status.

If Gurley spent the next six months training, he’d undoubtedly improve his chances of being taken early in the draft. He’d also avoid the risk of being injured in any of Georgia’s final four, or possibly five (SEC Championship?) games.

Instead, Gurley will suit up on Saturday and attempt to help the Dawgs leap over their next hurdle. A win over ninth-ranked Auburn would be a great first step for Georgia.

Gurley wasn’t made available to the media in the week leading up to the Auburn game, so picking his brain on the reasoning for coming back will have to wait until after the final whistle has blown. But it’s easy to wager a number of guesses.

SEC Coming Attractions

Don’t be too quick to play the selfish card. Without a doubt, Gurley accepting money for his autograph was a move with only personal gains in mind. Whether the money was used by Gurley himself, or sent to his family in an effort to help shoulder some of their financial burden, it was still a selfish act in regard to the Georgia Bulldogs.

Gurley was a member of a team, and given a scholarship to put that team first. Everything else should have been put on the back burner. When he took the cash, he was not thinking of his team, or his teammates.

That doesn’t make Gurley a selfish person.

One selfish act shouldn’t define a young man. Gurley’s return to the field to help the Dawgs should prove that.

The sound financial decision for Gurley was to never suit up in red and black again. But he may be trying to fix one poor financial decision by making a gratifying choice with others in mind.

Even though Chubb’s rushed for 895 yards this season, and the Georgia offense has looked fine without Gurley, adding the suspended rusher back into the fold can only benefit the Dawgs.

Gurley hasn’t been gone long enough for his return to alter team chemistry. And if for some reason things don’t work upon his return, Chubb can easily be reinserted. If Gurley does shine on Saturday, imagine what the duo can provide Georgia’s offense by keeping both he and Chubb fresh to wreak havoc.

For Gurley, coming back to finish the season with his teammates is the first step toward making amends. It will also give Gurley three more opportunities to run onto the field in Sanford Stadium and soak in the atmosphere of 92,746 screaming Georgia fans.

Gurley will forever have to live with the regret that stems from his decision to take money for signing a few pieces of memorabilia. Could he have won a Heisman? Could Georgia have won a national title?

One regret he won’t have to face: Could the Dawgs have benefited from Gurley’s help in their final three games of the 2014 season?