Maybe one or both of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb could have been a bigger individual star had they played on different teams. Perhaps if fate took one to another program, they would have made the trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Then again, they might have traded Los Angeles and Atlanta for New York, and that’s not the fate either would have wanted.
Georgia finds itself one win shy of the program’s first national championship since 1980 in part because both Sony Michel and Nick Chubb don red and black. Certainly the Bulldogs needed every bit of production the duo provided in last week’s Rose Bowl Game and College Football Playoff semifinal victory over Oklahoma.
Michel’s 27-yard touchdown run in double overtime capped his run to Offensive Player of the Game recognition, and marked a staggering six combined scores between the two games. Michel rushed for three, caught for a fourth and Chubb rolled up two touchdowns on the ground.
Take the individual performance of either and it’s the stuff of Rose Bowl legend — but Georgia needed both.
A minor gaffe from the press box PA announcer unintentionally yet perfectly captured the connection between the two, as Michel’s Player of the Game recognition was initially announced as belonging to Chubb.
Can’t have one without the other.
Both are highly productive, though their styles differ. Before he ever played a collegiate down, Chubb garnered praise for his powerful approach. Michel’s an equally effective through-the-tackles ball-carrier, but has cultivated a reputation as an explosive spark plug, posting a hair below 8 yards per attempt on the season.
Sony Michel and Nick Chubb came to Georgia in 2014, both boasting 5-star credentials.
“I didn’t know much about him,” Michel said of Chubb when the latter came out of Cedartown, Georgia. “I knew who he was. I knew of him. But not much about him coming out of high school.”
“I never met him before but I knew he was obviously committed to Georgia, from Florida to Miami,” said Chubb of Michel, who came to Athens out of American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida. “That’s pretty much it.”
Michel signed onto Georgia despite initially leaning to his hometown Miami Hurricanes — and despite the Bulldogs having fellow blue-chip back Chubb lined up.
“I had to look at what was best for me, what’s going to help me elevate my game to the next level, and what school was going to provide the best opportunity for me overall, whether it’s education, social life, and on the field,” Michel said. “I thought the University of Georgia was the school for me.”
Standing on the doorstep of a national championship, playing an integral role in that pursuit and generating praise as NFL prospects suggests both Sony Michel and Nick Chubb made the right choice with their college decision, even if other running backs elsewhere commanded brighter spotlights.
The two now share the sport’s premier stage because of each other — and not just because of their statistical contributions, but their mutual push to make each other better.
“I wanted to see what he was about, how good he really was,” Chubb said of his relationship with Michel as freshmen. “And it turns out he’s definitely great.”
“It’s pretty cool. It’s fun,” Michel said. “We just compete against each other.”
Individual awards and recognition may have eluded the pair in their respective Georgia careers, but each has done plenty to etch his name in the illustrious history of Bulldogs running backs.
It’s an impressive club, the modern benchmark of which was set when Georgia last won the national championship 37 years ago. That marked the debut of Herschel Walker, one of the most legendary names in college football history, say nothing of the Georgia Bulldogs tree.
Walker set the SEC career rushing mark in his three seasons, which included the national title in 1980 and a Heisman Trophy in 1982. Nick Chubb needs 516 yards in Monday’s national championship game against Alabama to surpass Walker’s career mark; The Open Man will go on a limb and guess Chubb won’t reach that milestone.
Nevertheless, he scored a critical direct-snap touchdown to ostensibly force overtime in the Rose Bowl. Not many running backs can claim scoring in the Granddaddy of ‘Em All, and especially not at such a critical juncture.
Even fewer can boast of surpassing names like Bo Jackson and Darren McFadden, which Chubb did this season. That puts him in rarefied air even among the lineage of standout Georgia running backs.
Garrison Hearst put together a 1992 worthy of Georgia’s first Heisman since Walker — an award that has eluded the program continuously since in spite of standouts like Knowshon Moreno and Todd Gurley.
Bulldogs running backs have managed other honors, though. Terrell Davis — who was on the sideline for the Rose Bowl — helped the Denver Broncos to a pair of Super Bowl championships. Gurley, a frontrunner to win MVP in the NFL this season, made the short trek up the 110 to Pasadena for the win over Oklahoma.
“They don’t need nothing from me,” Gurley said in the locker room following the Bulldogs’ win. “They made it further than me. [Oklahoma has] got a great team, and a great running back, [Rodney] Anderson [who rushed for more than 200 yards in the Rose Bowl]. But our running backs are a little better.”
There may not be any higher praise than such a full-throated endorsement from the best back in the NFL. For Michel, being part of the same club as a player like Gurley or the Heisman winner Walker is its own unique honor.
“It’s amazing to just think that I’ve gotten to be able to add my name to that list,” Michel said. “All those great backs that came before me and all those other running backs, it’s just amazing to see what’s to come.”
What might be to come for Sony Michel and Nick Chubb in the immediate future is a national championship. And they couldn’t have done it without each other.