There are dozens of players you could pick to be the most important in this year’s 2012 SEC Championship. With all of the talent between the Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide, you really couldn't go wrong picking almost any of the NFL-caliber guys who will be on the field Saturday.
The most crucial guy in the game that takes place at 4:00 p.m. ET on CBS this weekend has to be Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
The signal-caller for the Bulldogs will lead this team to a national championship or will send them packing to a non-BCS bowl. Whatever the case may be, the game is really going to come down to the production of the junior quarterback.
Murray has the makeup of a solid NFL prospect. He has the strong arm and quick release, he feels the pressure well and does a good job of moving around and at times he can be deadly accurate with the football. Due to all of the positive signs Murray has shown throughout his career, CBS Sports has him as the No. 1 quarterback prospect in 2014.
However, he has shown several times throughout his career to cave under pressure. He doesn't step up in the big moments and seems to fold when the lights shine brightly. Since 2010 (When Murray became the starter), Georgia is a combined 3-9 against ranked opponents. That includes two bowl losses and losing last year’s SEC title game to LSU by 32 points.
In this year’s big game against South Carolina, Murray completed only 35.5 percent of his passes and threw for only 109 yards and an interception. He didn't do a good job of handling pressure and often looked scared on the football field, especially for an upperclassman.
Even in the victory over the Florida Gators this season, he didn't fare so well. Murray completed 50 percent of his passes and threw three horrible interceptions. He did have the game-winning touchdown pass, but Malcolm Mitchell did most of the work by breaking a few tackles on the way to the end zone.
Needless to say, Murray hasn't quite developed the clutch gene, as Skip Bayless would often say. This probably has a lot to do with why he has turned down all media requests leading up this game, according to ESPN.
"He's a great competitor," Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said. "I know this one means so much to him. He works his tail off every day. People don't see that sometimes. He just wants to be completely ready and not have any distractions. Sometimes, talking to the media takes a little time away."
It is a good sign that Murray is taking this game seriously and wants to do everything in his power to win. Since he is putting extra time into his preparation, he should see that Georgia does have an advantage with its passing game in the matchup against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide does have the best pass defense in the SEC and the third best in the country, allowing only 156 yards in the air. However, this is the same group of guys who allowed LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger to complete nearly 69 percent of his passes for 298 yards. Yes, the first-year starting quarterback had his best game of his career against Alabama.
Cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Deion Belue aren't exactly elite players at their positions and often get beaten by decent receivers who can run solid routes. At times, the secondary looks confused in coverage, and that has led to 26 passing plays of over 20 yards, 11 more than they gave up all of last season.
Who wins the game?
Even though Georgia has suffered injuries to receivers Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown, guys like Tavarres King and Mitchell can still hold their own. Even tight end Arthur Lynch has stepped his game up lately, hauling in nine passes in the last three games.
There are plenty of guys on this Bulldogs offense who can expose the Tide's secondary similar to how LSU did earlier in the season. Keep in mind that this is also mainly the same offense that was able to find open guys in last year’s SEC Championship but hurt itself by dropping so many passes early on in the game.
With two true freshmen running backs leading the way for the Bulldogs ground game, it is going to be up to Murray to open things up and really make a statement in this SEC showdown. He is the leader of this team and will be the key to a Georgia victory.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.