The Georgia Bulldogs enter the 2014 season without the Southeastern Conference’s most prolific passer, Aaron Murray. If the mood at SEC Media Days was any indication, that doesn’t seem to matter to the Dawgs.
“The blessing for us is Hutson Mason being in the program going into his fifth season,” head coach Mark Richt told the media contingent in Hoover, Alabama, on Thursday (according to the press conference transcript furnished by ASAP Sports).
But it’s evident that the Dawgs’ confidence in Mason isn’t merely lip service or a byproduct of the senior’s playbook knowledge. Mason is not a placeholder; he’s a leader capable of guiding the team to great ascents.
But can the new man under center deliver on the hype? If surrounding talent and Bulldog history are factors, then he's certainly poised to do so.
Richt expects the offense’s plethora of weapons to pay dividends for Mason, who has been a pinnacle of patience over the past four seasons:
He's really sacrificed a lot for this team. He's staying because he loves Georgia and he especially loves his teammates. But he also knew that this season was going to come and he was going to be surrounded by a lot of skill guys, a lot of great backs, receivers, some veteran linemen, a defense that should be matured from a year ago.
Despite the return of Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and a host of talented receivers, it may be Mason who adds the most value to this team. Throughout the day, Richt and others were quick to laud Mason’s ability as a passer, his intricate knowledge of the playbook and his leadership.
"Hutson has been a tremendous field general (this offseason)".-Georgia WR Chris Conley on QB Hutson Mason— LaurenSisler (@LaurenSisler) July 17, 2014
Chris Conley: "I really believe that Hutson is a born leader"— UGA Football News (@UGAfootballLive) July 17, 2014
Additionally, history is on Mason's side. In 2005, D.J. Shockley took over for David Greene, a four-year starter in Athens. Fans had seen glimpses of Shockley and knew what he was capable of, but expectations heading into the season were tempered by the quarterback transition. Shockley responded by leading the Dawgs to a conference title.
Can Hutson Mason lead Georgia to an SEC Championship?
Now, lofty expectations are being placed on Mason. “When D.J. came in, he played great. Our quarterback situation was SEC-championship caliber,” Richt offered at media days. “I’m hoping the same with Hutson.”
Mason, who played well in two games as a starter last season and in backup duty over the preceding years, favors Shockley’s story. Truth be told, Mason could have transferred multiple times during his waiting game behind Murray. He would have been a welcomed addition to many programs.
Alas, Mason's commitment to Georgia remained strong (as did Shockley’s), and he’s now poised to pursue the highest of callings: an SEC championship. Winning the conference would give him an opportunity to achieve something in one season that Murray failed to do in four.
But talk alone is cheap at this point in the year.
For Mason, more of the same won’t be enough in 2014. In his two starts last season, he started slow and at times struggled to find chemistry with his receivers. This year, a still-developing Georgia defense will need to be countered by maximum production from Mason and his unit—particularly early in the season.
Chris Conley on Hutson Mason: "Hutson has a lot of touch. Aaron had a lot of zip.— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) July 17, 2014
With the Bulldogs opening the season against Clemson and South Carolina (two teams with capable but very different offenses), Mason needs to be ready to play from the very first snap. The margin for error will be practically nonexistent.
Fortunately, he’s been preparing for this season for years—literally. In June, the senior signal-caller told Seth Emerson of Macon’s Telegraph he was preparing to go out with a bang. “Hopefully I can make an impression that can last,” he said.
Based on what was said Thursday at media days, it sounds like Georgia is expecting that type of special season. The fifth-year senior is ready for an SEC championship season, which would be quite a finish for a player who threw a touchdown on his very first collegiate pass attempt back in 2010.
Unless otherwise noted: All quotes from Mark Richt's press conference at SEC Media Days courtesy of ASAP Sports.