USC’s Matt Barkley is the best quarterback in college football.
Whether that ultimately proves to be true or not, that’s a statement that college football fans are bound to hear repeated over and over again for the next few months.
This summer, Barkley will assume the same role that Andrew Luck held in 2011, as he’s now about to experience the rare feeling of what it’s like to be college football’s most coveted cover boy.
The Trojans’ highly touted senior signal-caller is already being hyped up as the media’s consensus favorite to win both the 2012 Heisman Trophy and eventually become the No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft, which is exactly the type of pressure that we saw thrust onto Luck’s shoulders before the start of last season.
Barkley is sure to receive plenty of hype and praise this offseason, but there’s one thing that he won’t be able to do in 2012, and that’s prove himself week in and week out against the best competition that college football has to offer in the SEC.
While Barkley is off torching the shaky secondaries of the Pac-12 this season (nine of the conference’s 12 teams ranked 75th or lower in the country in pass defense in 2011), there will be two other elite college quarterbacks—Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson and Georgia’s Aaron Murray, who will be battling it out for SEC supremacy in 2012.
If Barkley is truly No. 1 on the list of college football’s top quarterbacks, neither Wilson nor Murray is far behind.
Both SEC signal-callers enjoyed supremely impressive campaigns last year, and they’ll each enter the 2012 season with the intention of competing for a Heisman Trophy, a conference championship as well as a BCS title.
Both the Razorbacks and the Bulldogs will likely start off the season ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason polls, and both teams are stacked with the type of top-notch talent that it takes to contend for college football’s biggest prize in 2012. While the two squads aren’t slated to meet in the regular season, there’s definitely a chance that they could square off in the Georgia Dome on Dec. 1 with conference bragging rights on the line in the SEC championship game.
Wilson and Murray are undoubtedly two of the most talented quarterbacks in the country, but the question is, who is really the SEC’s top signal-caller?
The SEC is a conference that has been criticized by some outsiders for its lack of overall quality quarterback play in recent seasons. However, it’s also a league that in the last nine years has produced four quarterbacks who have been selected No. 1 overall in the NFL draft, and it’s also a league that’s had two quarterbacks win Heisman trophies in the last five years.
This year, 10 out of the conference’s 14 teams will bring back a quarterback with legitimate starting experience, and overall, this could very well be the deepest and most gifted group of quarterbacks that we’ve seen in the SEC in over a decade.
Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger will all certainly be capable of joining the battle for the league’s top quarterback honors, as will newcomer James Franklin at Missouri. However, right now, it looks like it's shaping up to really be a two-horse race between Wilson and Murray.
If you went strictly by their 2011 numbers, both quarterbacks are basically neck and neck.
Last season, Wilson completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,638 yards and 24 touchdowns and he finished with a 148 passer rating, as he led Arkansas to an 11-win season and a Top-Five national ranking.
Murray, on the other hand, completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,149 yards and 34 touchdowns and finished with a 146 passer rating, as he led Georgia to a 10-win season and an SEC East division title.
You have to factor in, though, that Wilson’s two losses came against the two top-ranked teams in the country, Alabama and LSU, and he did fare better against the Tigers’ stacked secondary in a late-season loss than Murray did in the SEC championship game blowout defeat.
In terms of pure pro potential, I think you have to give the nod to Wilson, given the fact that the 6’3’’, 220-pound senior looks like the exact prototype of a pro-style pocket passer, as he has the size, arm strength, accuracy, awareness and overall passing prowess to develop into a possible Top-10 pick for the 2013 NFL draft.
Murray may not be cut from the same type of NFL passer mold that Wilson seems to be, but he’s got the type of tremendous intangibles and leadership ability that scouts look for in a potential franchise quarterback.
Although the 6’1’’, 211-pound junior doesn’t have great size, he makes up for it with his arm strength, his field presence and his football intelligence.
When it comes right down to it, if I were coaching an SEC contender this season and I had my choice of the two players, it would obviously be a very tough decision between two very worthy candidates. But in the end, I would choose Aaron Murray to be my quarterback.
While I think Wilson will ultimately be viewed more favorably as an NFL prospect than Murray will, if we’re just talking about the college level, I would want the former 4-star recruit out of Tampa's Plant High School to be the leader of my offense.
Although there wasn’t a huge spike in his overall passing numbers in his second year as a starter in 2011, you could tell that Murray made some great strides as both a player and a team leader last season.
He demonstrated just how big of a difference-maker he really is when he guided the Bulldogs to 10 straight victories after a disappointing 0-2 start last season. That extremely impressive and important run may have saved Georgia coach Mark Richt from losing his job.
It’s clear that Murray’s now a much more confident and capable quarterback than he was in 2010, and he’s matured and grown into a player who now stands on the doorstep of true national stardom.
A Heisman Trophy, an SEC championship, a BCS bowl game berth and even a BCS title are all within Murray’s grasp this season.
Wilson will probably be the one who soaks up more of the preseason publicity and garners more of the attention this summer.
Nonetheless, I have a feeling that Murray will end up being the one who separates himself from the rest of the crowd of SEC signal-callers this season, as he proves to the college football world in 2012 that he’s truly the league’s premier quarterback.