The No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs (2-1) will host the No. 6 LSU Tigers (4-0) Saturday afternoon in Athens in a Top 10 battle between two SEC powers.
For Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray and Tigers signal-caller Zach Mettenberger, it'll be a reunion.
The two seniors battled for Georgia's starting quarterback job as freshmen in the spring of 2010. In Georgia's G-Day game, Mettenberger completed six of 10 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns while Murray went 10-of-22 for 96 yards.
Murray went against the first-team defense that afternoon, according to Chris Low of ESPN, while Mettenberger worked primarily against the second team, signaling that while the competition was ongoing, Murray had a slight lead exiting the spring.
Aron White was a tight end for the Bulldogs from 2008-2011 and witnessed the competition firsthand.
"I thought it was a much closer competition than people realized," White said. "A lot of numbers got compared and leadership abilities (of the two), and it was blatantly obvious that we had two guys who were extremely talented."
But Mettenberger had a disciplinary issue hanging over his head during spring practice 2010. He was arrested on March 7 in Remerton, Ga. on five misdemeanor charges including underage possession of alcohol and disorderly conduct, according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald. The alcohol arrest triggered an automatic one-game suspension, according to Georgia's student athlete handbook.
His Georgia career took an unexpected turn the week after spring practice when he was kicked off the team April 18, according to Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He later pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery that stemmed from the same incident in Remerton, according to Mark Schlabach of ESPN.
"Today I took full responsibility for my actions and entered a plea to two counts of misdemeanor sexual battery for the incident that occurred in Remerton, Ga. on March 7," Mettenberger said. "I first want to apologize to the young lady my actions most directly affected and I hope that by me accepting responsibility for my actions that she can move on with her life."
The job was Murray's and he ran with it, becoming only the second quarterback in SEC history to throw 100 career touchdown passes, tossing three against North Texas on Saturday to push his total to 102—only 12 behind former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel.
But some of Murray's success can be traced back to his competition with Mettenberger.
"On campus, they both did an outstanding job of doing the very best they could to be prepared and to prove to (offensive coordinator) Mike Bobo and myself that they should be the starter," head coach Mark Richt said. "There's no question that the competition helped Aaron."
But it wasn't just the battle during practice that impressed Richt. He knew going in that both were born leaders when they embraced the challenge by signing in the same class in 2009.
"After they both committed to Georgia, there was a time when somebody could have bailed out," Richt said. "They stayed, they competed and they knew that they were going to compete from before signing day."
But while the competition early in their careers was healthy, Murray recognizes that had Mettenberger not been dismissed from the team, the likelihood of both of the stars sticking around Athens through the 2013 season was slim.
"I doubt both of us would have stayed," Murray said Tuesday, via Seth Emerson of Macon.com. "I'm sure one of us probably would have left, and you'd be talking to him right now and I'd be at LSU or another squad."
White said it was apparent early on that Murray had the leadership ability to be a star in the SEC.
"He's a guy that works so diligently and is committed to studying the game and watching cut ups," White said. "He's definitely somebody who's always been driven, but having Mettenberger there nipping at his heels and elbowing him right there in the race definitely helped him."
Mettenberger, on the other hand, took a circuitous route playing the 2010 season with Butler (Kan.) Community College, before landing back in the SEC with LSU.
"I believe in stories of redemption and stories of guys coming back from making mistakes," Richt said. "What I've learned over the years is that I'd kind of like for it to happen here at Georgia, but sometimes it happens at another school. That's fine with me. I realize that those kind of comeback stories can happen. I want all the guys we sign to realize their dreams."
When the two meet again between the hedges Saturday afternoon, it will be a meeting between two of the top passers in college football.
Murray will enter the game fourth in the nation with a passer rating of 201.78, while Mettenberger is sixth at 193.61. Not a bad matchup, to say the least.
Most of the talk entering the "Mettenbowl" will surround Mettenberger—a former Bulldog from nearby Watkinsville whose mother Tammy is an administrative associate in the Georgia athletic department. Richt gave her this week off of work, according to Chip Towers of the AJC.
"Obviously it’d be awkward for her to be hanging around," Richt said. "So she won’t be in this week. I told her to enjoy it. Go have fun and enjoy some things you normally couldn’t do this of year and enjoy it."
But let's not forget just how important the relationship is for Murray.
He won the competition for the quarterback position in the spring of 2010, but on Saturday, he and Mettenberger will be competing with more than a starting job on the line.
Without Mettenberger, Murray may not be littering the SEC career record books like he currently is.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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