As the Georgia Bulldogs prepare to square off against the Florida Gators Saturday, quarterback Aaron Murray has more than just the fate of the Dawgs’ 2012 season in his hands. This game will also have implications for his legacy at Georgia and his future in the sport of football.
First of all, this will probably be the last chance for Murray to get the “can’t win a big game” monkey off his back. The South Carolina game didn’t help Murray in that cause, but a strong performance leading to a Bulldog victory against the Gators would put the debacle in Columbia well into the rear view mirror for the Georgia quarterback.
More importantly, even though this is already one of the most anticipated rivalry games for Georgia every season, this Florida game has even bigger implications for Murray and the Bulldogs in 2012.
With South Carolina effectively taking itself out of the East race with back-to-back conference losses to LSU and Florida, Georgia again controls its own destiny for a return trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
With a favorable conference schedule left for both teams following Saturday’s game, the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party has basically become a de facto SEC East playoff game.
In fact, should the Gators win, they will mathematically clinch the East. A victory would keep Florida undefeated in the SEC with only one more conference game on their schedule while every other team in the East would have at least two losses.
So, Saturday against Florida, Murray has a chance to silence critics, spoil the championship hopes of his arch rival and keep his own team’s championship hopes alive all rolled into one. I’d say that has the makings of his most crucial collegiate game so far.
But this game could easily have consequences for Murray that extend beyond this season as well.
NFL scouts will have Murray under a microscope in this game and how he performs against the Gators could have a huge impact on his status should he choose to make himself eligible for the draft after this season.
At 6’1”, 210 pounds, Murray doesn’t have the prototypical pro quarterback build. And although Murray does have speed and can make plays with his legs when protection breaks down, he is not a running quarterback.
Therefore, Murray is going to have to show scouts that he already has the intangibles needed to be successful at the next level. This game will be a huge chance for Murray to prove himself.
Scouts are going to pay close attention to how Murray handles himself against an excellent, pro-style Florida defense. Murray is going to face constant pressure, just like he would on Sundays, and how he responds will be a good indicator of his ability to have success in the NFL.
His mechanics, his heart and his poise under the pressure of this Florida defense will all be closely scrutinized in this game. If Murray comes out and has a strong performance and continues to play well for the rest of the season, he may well be a mid to late first round pick. On the other hand, if he comes out flat and collapses under the pressure—literally and figuratively—he could potentially drop to a third or fourth round pick.
So, that considered, a bad showing in this game could potentially cost Murray millions of dollars. It seems a little crazy that one game could mean so much, but Murray probably won’t have another chance to prove himself against this caliber defense. This will be the NFL litmus test for the Georgia quarterback.
Going a step further, a poor performance in this game may even sway Murray to return to UGA for his final season of eligibility in order to improve his draft status and have another shot at a championship. For all I know, he may be leaning that way already, but this game could potentially make that decision a lot easier.
Suffice to say, there is a lot riding on this game for the Georgia Bulldogs as a team and Aaron Murray in particular.