Posted: 3:27 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013
By Brandon Larrabee
A look at the players who will play a key role in the 2013 race for the SEC East
The latest version. Where Mark Richt keeps coming up with these quarterbacks is anyone's guess. In his 12 seasons coaching in the SEC, only three times has Georgia not ranked in the top half of the SEC in passing efficiency -- and only once more have they failed to place in the top third of the league. Two of those years can be explained as the Joe Cox interregnum (2009, when Georgia ranked seventh in the conference) and Matthew Stafford's freshman season (2006, when the team ranked 10th). Aaron Murray has taken that trend to new heights; the 172.81 team passer rating in 2012 was the highest the Dawgs have hit with Richt at the helm, and Murray was the second-best passer in the country by that measure. But he's part of a trend nonetheless.
Great year. Murray had a superlative year in 2012 by almost any measurement you use. He was 249-of-386, meaning he completed passes at a 64.5 percent clip. He threw for 3,893 yards, or more than ten yards per attempt. And he connected on 36 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, failing to throw for a score in just one game (the loss at South Carolina) and throwing more than one interception twice (against Florida and Nebraska). So Murray was not just remarkably efficient, he was also relatively prolific. It's hard to say that Murray was underrated last year, but it's hard to lose sight of just how good he was.
How good can he be in 2013? The biggest question regarding that kind of a season is whether it can be repeated -- and history says that's going to be very, very hard. Of course, even if Murray's passer rating were to decline by 10 or 15 points, he would still be an exceptionally good quarterback. But there almost might be just a touch more pressure on the offense to carry the Dawgs, at least early in the season. Keep in mind that Georgia is returning the smallest percentage of last year's tackles in the NCAA this season, meaning that even a defense as talented as Georgia's is going to need a few games to get its sea legs. And if Murray has to carry the team at the beginning of the year, it could mean doing so against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU in the first month.
In the final analysis. There's nothing in Murray's record or Richt's career to suggest that a steep drop-off is in store for the 2013 season. Improving on last year is going to be nearly impossible, but that's only because Murray performed at such a high level in 2012 to begin with. Murray is also losing two of his top three targets from last season, though Malcolm Mitchell, Arthur Lynch and the formerly injured Michael Bennett will all be on the field. Murray will probably come up at least a little short of repeating last year's numbers, but he's still likely to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country.