Todd Gurley works under no false assumptions.
He knows it will be difficult to duplicate what he did this past season in 2013. That's easily understandable, given the incredible numbers the North Carolina native tallied in 2012. He ran for 1,385 yards, the second-most in Georgia history for a freshman running back, behind only Herschel Walker's 1980 season, when the legendary No. 34 accumulated 1,616 yards on his way to leading the Bulldogs to a national championship.
Gurley scored 17 rushing touchdowns, tied for the third-best showing in the Bulldogs' annals in a single season along with Tim Worley's 1988 campaign. Tack on his 100-yard kickoff return for a score in the season opener against Buffalo and Gurley's total touchdown mark ends up at 18, once again tied for third-most in a single season for Georgia, joining Worley (1988) and Knowshon Moreno (2008).
The reciting of Gurley's fantastic freshman season could continue to nigh infinity. Following Georgia's victory over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Gurley was asked whether he would allow himself to reflect on the season just passed, to ruminate over his various accomplishments and the memorable plays he made. Begrudgingly, he admitted he would "embrace" the success, pointing out he "did do the work" to make it possible.
But now it's on to the next one.
"It's not going to mean anything if you don't do the same thing the next year," Gurley said of his freshman season. "I had a very good year, and it's going to be hard for me to try to put up the same numbers that I did this year. A lot of folks are going to be gunning for me. People are always going to have something to say, but it's up to me to have a great offseason and to have an even better season next year. As long as we win it all next year, I can have two yards, total, and it won't matter to me."
All joking aside, Gurley gaining only two yards next season is one of the most unlikely scenarios imaginable, barring an injury or some other unforeseen circumstance. Instead, Gurley will be on the shortlist of preseason favorites for the Heisman Trophy; with Florida quarterback Tim Tebow winning as a sophomore in 2007 and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel capturing it as a redshirt freshman last month, the glass ceiling for underclassmen has been lifted. Talk of bringing the bronze, stiff-armed trophy to Athens for the first time since Walker won it in 1982 was a topic Gurley didn't shy away from.
"It's about time for a running back to win that again," he said. "The last one to do it was (Alabama's) Mark Ingram. ... But hopefully I'll do very good (next season). Maybe I'll get it."
Gurley taking center stage with the discussion of his Heisman aspirations meant Keith Marshall was relegated to the background once more. As has been the case all season, Marshall was overshadowed by his good friend and fellow North Carolinian.
Though Marshall came in as the more highly-touted half of the running back duo and got a jump-start with the team after enrolling early last spring, it became readily apparent Gurley would become the featured player in the backfield. It took all of one game, with Gurley rushing for 100 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries — along with the aforementioned 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — in the Bulldogs' opener to make the physically imposing 6-foot-1, 218-pound freshman both the coaches' and the fans' favored son.
Despite not sharing equal billing with Gurley, Marshall still carved out a nice season for himself. Marshall finished with 759 rushing yards in 2012, the seventh-best total among Georgia freshman running backs. And at least in one department, he edged his freshman counterpart, averaging 6.5 yards per carry (on 117 attempts) compared to Gurley's 6.2 per rush (on 222 attempts). Further, it was Marshall — not Gurley — who started against the Cornhuskers, marking the first time in his career he earned the distinction.
Though his final numbers weren't stellar (eight carries for 36 yards; three receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown), Marshall's acrobatic touchdown grab proved to be one of the game's pivotal plays. With the score tied at 31-all to begin the fourth quarter, the outcome was still in doubt. Marshall's touchdown served as the go-ahead score of the Bulldogs' 45-31 victory. Perhaps the most impressive part of Marshall's touchdown had nothing to do with the catch itself, though.
It was the fact Marshall made something out of a broken play.
"I was supposed to run a shallow wheel route, but when I turned my eyes around, I saw (quarterback Aaron Murray) scrambling," he said. "So I turned upfield, because that's what they teach us to do. And he just threw a great pass."
Murray scrambling and tossing the ball his way was "just a coincidence," Marshall said. As many times as he had practiced that particular play, Marshall noted he had never got the ball before. The man who actually dialed up the call, Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, explained how the play developed from his vantage point.
"We were trying to work a high-low strong to Chris Conley and Tavarres King, and (Nebraska) did a great job of covering it," he said. "Murray broke out of the pocket and Keith was on the sideline and does what he's supposed to do — he turned upfield. Murray did a nice job of throwing him a ball he could handle and the guy made an unbelievable catch. And then to stay inbounds, it was just a great play."
If nothing else, it was a play Marshall hoped would encourage coaches to incorporate him into the passing game more prominently next season.
"I feel like I have great hands, and I think I showed the coaches in this game a little bit," he said. "So I hope I'll get a little more of that next year."
It's not difficult to deduce what both Gurley and Marshall want for 2013: a national title. After falling a few agonizing yards short of playing in the BCS National Championship game this season, Gurley said the team won't be resting on its laurels. The Bulldogs made strides in 2012, winning 12 games for only the third time in school history.
But if they are to finally capture the long-awaited national title and end the drought that dates back to 1980, Gurley was well-aware of what lies ahead. It's not going to be easy, but he never thought it would be.
He doesn't work under false assumptions, after all.
"It's going to be the little things now during the offseason," he said. "You're going to be pushing even harder, because you know you came so close to going to a national championship. It's not like we got blew out or anything. So while we're working hard, we need to think about the little things, because that could be the outcome of getting those five yards to make it to the national championship next year."