With similarly opportunistic defenses and respective dynamic backfield duos, the SEC championship between the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide and third-ranked Georgia will come down to quarterback play.
This matchup is wonderful for a multitude of reasons—a national championship berth is at stake in addition to the conference title.
But the QB position isn't least among them.
While Bulldogs signal-caller Aaron Murray has to be viewed as the more NFL-friendly prospect, he hasn't exhibited the same discipline with the football as Alabama's AJ McCarron has throughout the 2012 season.
Yet Murray does have a bit of an advantage right off the bat. McCarron will be without junior speedster Kenny Bell, the team's second-leading wide receiver who has averaged an eye-popping 25.4 yards per catch. Bell unfortunately suffered a broken leg in the team's 49-0 blowout of rival Auburn this past Saturday, and will miss the remainder of the year (h/t Alex Scarborough).
The Bulldogs already have the ninth-best pass defense in the nation (h/t NCAA.com), which will only make McCarron's job that much tougher.
Both have the luxury of exceptional running games to lean on, though, and McCarron should have the edge there. Alabama junior Eddie Lacy leads the way for Nick Saban's talented team, which consistently benefits from an enormous offensive line year in and year out.
But true freshman T.J. Yeldon is not to be discounted. His season was highlighted by the electric, game-winning TD catch at LSU on a screen pass on the deciding drive. Georgia first-years Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have been outstanding in their own right, both averaging well over six yards per carry and finding the end zone a combined 22 times on the ground.
The reason McCarron has the edge and will not be as depended upon to win the game is because Georgia's rush defense isn't all that stout, and the Tide have arguably the country's best.
So what this contest boils down to is the decision-making by the quarterbacks.
Without Bell, that will likely mean McCarron will have to get the ball out of his hands quickly rather than waiting for deep shots to develop down the field. Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones—a surefire elite NFL prospect—gives quarterbacks nightmares.
If the Tide QB can't get the ball out quickly, the Bulldogs will capitalize by forcing fumbles. They have recovered 15 on the year, which is just one behind the national lead.
Here's the problem with Murray, though: his 10 yards per attempt and exceptional 30-7 touchdown to interceptions ratio look fantastic—until checking out his game log. An 11-for-31 showing with zero TDs and one pick at South Carolina and a three-INT effort against Florida show that Murray's game hasn't exactly held up when facing elite competition.
McCarron has only thrown two picks all year, but both came in the home loss to Texas A&M. Still, he is not nearly as mistake-prone as Murray.
It's hard to give a discernible edge to either of the two fantastic junior QBs. Whether the Tide roll or the Bulldogs bark, you can count on the hopes of each program's fate riding on the right arms of McCarron and Murray.