ATHENS, Ga. - Nick Chubb and Sony Michel had a dream of bringing a championship to Georgia when they decided almost exactly one year ago to return for their senior seasons.
They've already helped lead No. 3 Georgia to the Southeastern Conference championship. Now the two tailbacks want to keep dreaming as Georgia has a Rose Bowl date with No. 2 Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff.
"It couldn't have been any better," Michel said Monday. "We put a great season together."
It's difficult to imagine Georgia winning the SEC title in coach Kirby Smart's second season and being part of the playoff if not for the decisions by Chubb, Michel and outside linebackers Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy to bypass the NFL draft and return for their senior seasons.
It was an important boost for Smart and his staff following a disappointing 8-5 finish last year.
Smart said the impact of those decisions was "probably more than they have been given credit."
"I think the greatest impact it had was it gave the younger players ... confidence in the regime," Smart said. "It showed them that, hey, man, these guys have only been with this staff one year, but they're willing to stay."
Chubb and Michel have followed in the footsteps of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and formed one of the best running back tandems in school history. Michel needs only 52 yards rushing against Oklahoma to give Georgia its first pair of 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
And there are more waiting in the wings.
D'Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien have combined for 1,155 yards rushing. That has helped Georgia set a school record with 3,426 yards rushing.
"We had a vision first and after that you kind of have to work at it and reach those goals and that's kind of what we did," Chubb said. "We came here and we worked hard, we worked very hard in the offseason to get to where we are."
Asked about the vision, Chubb said, "You want to win championships."
Georgia beat Auburn 28-7 on Dec. 2 for its first SEC championship since 2005. Even Chubb acknowledged it may have been difficult at this time last year to have a vision of contending for the national championship.
"You kind of see it," he said. "It was a little blurry but you have to work for it."
This will be only the second Rose Bowl appearance for the Bulldogs.
And the last time Georgia played in the game, it was led by perhaps its all-time most celebrated running back duo.
Frankie Sinkwich and Charley Trippi helped Georgia beat UCLA 9-0 in the Rose Bowl following the 1942 season.
Sinkwich won the Heisman Trophy in 1942 but was slowed by sprained ankles in the Rose Bowl. Trippi ran for 115 yards in Georgia's win. He was named the game's outstanding player. Trippi was the Heisman runner-up, behind Army's Glenn Davis, in 1946.
Trippi, who turned 96 last week and lives in Athens, says playing in the Rose Bowl was one of his biggest highlights of his college career, which was interrupted by his service in World War II.
"Of course playing in the Rose Bowl was a great thrill," Trippi told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday. "Anybody who plays college football loves that opportunity. It so happened I was playing on a good football team and it made my job a lot easier."
Trippi said Chubb and Michel are "good football players" and added "That's why they're there."
Chubb's 1,175 yards rushing this season have left him second on the SEC career records, behind former Georgia Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker. Chubb and Michel rank second and third, respectively, on the school's career rushing list.
NOTES: Smart said LB Natrez Patrick and backup wide receiver Jayson Stanley remain eligible to practice with the team following their arrests on Dec. 2. Patrick's misdemeanor marijuana charge was dropped last week. Stanley negotiated an agreement to plead guilty to possession of marijuana of less than an ounce and speeding, while a DUI drug charge was dismissed. Smart wouldn't comment on the players' status for the Rose Bowl and said discipline will be handled "internally." ... OLB coach Kevin Sherrer, expected to be named defensive coordinator at Tennessee, will remain with Georgia through the playoff. "When he got the opportunity he got, which I'm really proud of him, first thing he said he wanted to finish out right, and we want him to," Smart said. Tennessee has not announced the hire.
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