37. ISAIAH CROWELL, running back, Georgia.
Entering 2010, you could find the occasional pundit (and more than the occasional fan) who'd tell you Mark Richt was on the hot seat. Clearly, they were a year early; any SEC coach (Vanderbilt's excepted) who's legitimately on the hot seat doesn't go 6-7 with losses to a miserable Colorado team and a Conference USA opponent and retain his job. Richt did.
But if he wasn't on the hot seat then, another year spent wallowing in mediocrity, another year losing to Florida, another year spent saying "wait 'til next year" has assured that Richt is most definitely on the hot seat now. Any fewer than, say, nine wins and at least a runner-up finish in the SEC East, and there's no way even a measured, patient program like Georgia will be able to bring him back. And so it's only natural that with his job in jeopardy like never before, Richt is spearheading his team's turnaround with ... a freshman?
Almost: freshmen, if we're being technical, the so-called "Dream Team" of primarily in-state prospects that gave Richt his strongest recruiting class in years and seemed to singlehandedly restore momentum to the program. But even the five-star likes of defensive end Ray Drew and defensive back Malcolm Mitchell won't be expected to become the centerpieces of the Bulldog defense overnight. Isaiah Crowell, though? No, he's not even on campus yet. But the true freshman running back from Columbus (Ga.) is no doubt already the foundation on which much of Richt's offensive plans are being laid.
Just ask him:
“Heavily,” Richt said on ESPNU when asked how Crowell would be used next fall. “I expect him to come right in and compete right away. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him running that rock in the dome against Boise State on the opening play if he does what he’s supposed to do.”For a publicly conservative-by-nature coach like Richt, an admission like that is tantamount to declaring Crowell the unquestioned starter ... and that was on Signing Day. Clearly, Richt believes Crowell to be the game-changer at tailback the Bulldogs haven't had since Knowshon Moreno departed, and he expects him to be that player from Day 1.
|More CFB 100|
There's plenty of evidence, though, that Crowell is a bet that'll pay off in spades. Like current Heisman candidates Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore, Crowell arrives at Georgia not only with consensus five-star approval from the recruiting gurus but the honor of being the most sought-after SEC running back in his class. (Alabama and Auburn both fought tooth-and-nail for Crowell, to no avail.) At 5'11" and a solidly-built 210 pounds, Crowell already has the frame to deliver 25 carries a game and the power and speed to make those carries count.
In short, Crowell has both the opportunity and the talent to do for the Bulldogs exactly what Lattimore did for South Carolina last season. If he lives up to the hype, there's no reason Richt can't ride him right past a forgiving schedule (with no Alabama, LSU or Arkansas out of the West and no road game more difficult than Tennessee) all the way to Atlanta. If he doesn't? Most likely, someone other than Richt is patrolling the Bulldogs' sideline in 2012.
The guess here is that Crowell delivers, and the "Dream Team" momentum carries Richt into 2012 and beyond. But either way, Crowell enters 2011 as the most important true freshman in the SEC ... and possibly the country.