Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron Get the Headlines, but Don't Forget Aaron Murray
USA TODAY Sports
While Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel polishes his Heisman Trophy and Alabama signal-caller AJ McCarron shows off his back-to-back BCS National Championship rings on their bro-cation to an exotic destination later this month, one SEC quarterback in northeast Georgia will be looking to solidify his legacy with a title in 2013.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray.
Murray passed on the NFL after receiving a second- or third-round grade, according to the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald, to return to Georgia for his senior campaign. He already has the Georgia single-season touchdown record in his back pocket after tossing 35 in 2011, only to surpass the mark with 36 last season.
The Tampa native led his team to within five yards of playing for the national title last season, but his pass on the final play of the SEC Championship Game was tipped and caught by Chris Conley on the 5-yard line as time ran out.
The quest for that title played a major role in Murray's decision to return for his senior season, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and he has the majority of his weapons returning to help him along the way.
A full season at wide receiver from Malcolm Mitchell, the return of Michael Bennett from ACL surgery and the emergence of junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph will complement the running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall nicely behind that experienced offensive line.
Considering his supporting cast and past performance, there's no reason to think that Murray can't match—or even exceed—his 2012 output despite the tough schedule.
For all of the grief that offensive coordinator Mike Bobo takes, he has made Georgia's offense one of the SEC's most productive. The Bulldogs finished third in the SEC in total offense in 2012, averaging 467.6 yards per game, and Murray is a big reason why.
He has full control of the line of scrimmage and makes sure that his unit gets into the right play. That isn't something that just happens. It starts with the Georgia coaching staff.
The trust that Murray has established with his coaching staff and teammates will be invaluable this season, as Georgia tries to break through that glass ceiling.
The Bulldogs lost four defensive lineman, three linebackers and four other contributors from last year's defense that finished 12th in the SEC in rush defense. As a result, the offense could—could—have to get into shootouts at times in 2013, even more so than it did in 2012.
Will Aaron Murray lead the SEC in passing YPG in 2013?
But with Jordan Jenkins at linebacker and safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons manning the back end of the defense, I think Georgia's defense is going to be significantly better than it was last season.
That's far from a certainty, though.
If Georgia does get in a shootout or two, Murray is more than capable of holding his own. He won't have Johnny Manziel-like video game statistics, but if he can navigate a month of September that features games against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU, he not only could land his team in the national championship hunt again, but could emerge as a Heisman favorite.
After what we've seen from Murray during his first three seasons as Georgia's starting quarterback, that shouldn't be a shock at all.
The "forgotten quarterback" in the SEC could be its most productive signal-caller in 2013.
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