It's game day in Athens, Georgia, one of the most electrifying venues in all of college football.
The fans are screaming, the grills are burning, and the 1-1 Bulldogs are looking for a win to avoid starting 0-2 in SEC play.
Taking the snaps is freshman quarterback Aaron Murray. He stands at 6'1" and tips the scales at 209 pounds. He doesn't quite qualify as a dual-threat quarterback, but his 21-yard TD run against Louisiana-Lafayette indicates that he isn't afraid to come out of the pocket.
Currently, his stats sit at 31-of-47 with 352 yards, three TDs, and one interception. Although he didn't score a touchdown, his 14-of-21 performance against a stout South Carolina defense is nothing to sneeze at either.
He's got the home field advantage, a brilliant coach calling the plays, and a must-win attitude for this game. Despite this, his most prolific receiver, A.J. Green, is not going to be suiting up for this particular game.
Murray's eyes are on the prize, the SEC East title, and a chance to compete in the SEC championship game for a possible BCS bowl game bid. The Florida Gators are struggling a bit this year, and he knows that his team can, with the right combination of circumstances, represent the East this year.
Enter Ryan Mallett: a 6'7" Heisman hopeful with a rocket launcher where his arm should be, an undefeated record, a vastly improved defense, and the best receiving corps in the nation. Shattering Arkansas records in his first season wasn't enough, and the Texarkana native is looking to bring the Hogs that fabled crystal trophy.
Mallett is coming into this game with stats that are already staggering. He is 49-of-67 with 701 yards, six TDs, and two interceptions. Also, one can add a rushing touchdown to his already stunning resume.
The Arkansas offense is as loaded as a pair of Vegas dice, and the defense looks like a brand new squad. Mallett enjoys the return of his "dog pound" of pass catchers: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, Greg Childs, and the illustrious D.J. Williams.
Comparing Ryan Mallett to Aaron Murray at this point in Murray's career isn't exactly fair, but the cogs of the SEC grind once more, and it's important to understand the difference between the play callers.
Last year, Mallett set records against the Georgia defense. Although they look to be much improved like the Arkansas defense, Mallett knows the drill, and his 400-plus-yard, five-TD performance against the Bulldogs last year is a scary stat for any defense to face.
Mallett has the size advantage, the arm strength advantage, the O-line advantage, the receiver depth advantage, and the experience of being a three-year veteran working on his side.
Murray is a freshman quarterback who is lacking his all-star receiver. He also has the psychological burden of dealing with Georgia's early .500 record grinding on his psyche. Aaron Murray simply doesn't have the athletic ability, experience, or receiving corps to compare with Ryan Mallett right now.
The Hogs are looking to win the SEC West and take an undefeated record into the national championship game. Mallett's a legitimate contender for the Heisman trophy; Murray is not on anyone's watch list.
This isn't to say that Aaron Murray isn't going to have an outlandishly successful career at Georgia. Mark Richt is no fool, and his confidence in Murray coupled with the home field advantage may be enough to topple the high-flying Hogs on Saturday.
But I just don't see that happening. Mallett will have another record-breaking day, the Dawgs will sink to 1-2, and Richt will realign his strategy to win out his schedule.
Look for a big day from both quarterbacks, but look for Mallett to head back into the locker room with a still perfect record going into next week.
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