Whenever the conversation turns to this year's SEC quarterbacks, Aaron Murray has always played third banana. Most agree that there's a distinct top trio, but Murray typically rounds it out in last.
Johnny Manziel has the Heisman and AJ McCarron has the national championships. All Murray has are a boatload of gaudy numbers and couple of near-misses. Conference media elected Manziel to the first team, McCarron to the second and Murray to the third back in July.
His fortunes changed on Thursday, though, when SEC coaches—in an unforeseen bit of polling—picked Murray as their first-team quarterback this season. The one-time reigning Heisman winner followed in second while the two-time reigning BCS National Champion followed in third.
And yet somehow, even after describing it in those frank terms, the coaches' decision feels completely justified.
This isn't a Manziel-bashing article or some sort of asinine click-bait. It's not sensational writing and it's not intended to piss people off. It's simply a meditation on what these all-league teams should mean.
The coaches, ostensibly, are voting for the quarterback they are most scared to play this season. They're voting for the guy that they least look forward to game-planning, the one they're most sure will give them trouble in 2013.
That decision consists of myriad of factors, skill and success chief among them. But one of those factors is the likelihood said quarterback stands of actually being on the field this season. And in that regard, Manziel has to take a bump.
Which isn't to say he'll definitely be suspended or deemed ineligible. The evidence against him is too circumstantial, and the NCAA far too capricious, for anyone to make such a claim. But in the wake of allegations that he sold his autograph for money, Johnny Football is far from a sure thing to play in 2013.
Why should SEC coaches be scared to game-plan for a ghost? Why should they be frightened by an apparition? If deemed 100 percent eligible, of course Manziel should be the All-SEC first-teamer. But until that memo comes through, his status will always be unsure.
The known quantity should always trump the unsettled.
It's not like Murray is a major drop-off from Manziel's production. Since starting as a freshman in 2010, Murray has put together a striking body of work—a career-long resume that might eventually put him in College Football's Hall of Fame.
He's already surpassed 10,000 passing yards, and if he matches last year's total of 3,893, he would finish his career as the eighth-leading passer in FBS history. His hypothetical 13,984 yards would be the most in SEC history, trailing just Landry Jones (Oklahoma) and Graham Harrell (Texas Tech) for most in a BCS conference.
If winning a Heisman enshrines you in college football lore, this would be (close to) the next best thing.
Murray's success last year (and over his whole career) helped earn him 52 first-team votes in the SEC media poll, which took place at media days. Manziel more than doubled him with 119, but it's not like Murray was an off-the-map selection. And that was before Manziel's eligibility came into doubt.
How AJ McCarron factors into all of this—that's another story. After slightly edging out Murray for second-team honors from the media, Alabama's overlooked quarterback was dropped to the third team by coaches. It's hard to imagine a two-time national champion enduring such a slight.
Who Will Finish 2013 as the First-Team SEC Quarterback?
But it doesn't necessarily mean coaches take him for granted. Third-team All-SEC, when you think about it, isn't that far off from third-team All-American. The coaches just don't have to game-plan for McCarron the same way they have to for Murray and Manziel.
He's brilliant in Alabama's system—which is harder to run than people give it credit for—but T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper are the Tide players who keep them up at night. Murray and Manziel are the quarterbacks who give defensive coordinators nightmares; McCarron merely gives them headaches.
Which is all to say that Murray, though an unexpected choice as first-team quarterback, is by no means the wrong one. All three options have a strong case for that honor, and no coach should be blamed for voting one over the other two. It was a win-win-win decision, which is why any anti-Murray backlash feels so weird.
Can't the kid, just this once, get a taste of first place?