A couple of media mentions of Aaron Murray this week show the widespread respect the former Georgia quarterback earned despite falling a few yards and seconds short of his quest to bring a championship to Athens.
Ranking the best SEC quarterbacks of the 16-year BCS era, Athlon Sports put Murray at No. 5, behind Florida’s Tim Tebow, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and Auburn drive-by star Cam Newton.
Said Athlon: “When it comes to statistics, no SEC player in history was more productive than Murray. He owns the SEC record for passing yards and touchdown passes. His 137 total touchdowns trail only Tebow and his 13,562 yards of total offense bested Tebow’s record by a large margin (12,232). He is one of only three Georgia quarterbacks to beat Florida in three straight seasons and he posted at least 3,000 yards passing in four consecutive seasons. He is No. 1 all-time in SEC history with 921 completions and is No. 2 all-time with 1,478 attempts. … The lack of a conference championship is the only missing piece to Murray’s otherwise sterling resume.”
Meanwhile, NFL reporter Pat Kirwan of CBS Sports noted that “Murray was voted the toughest quarterback to face by the SEC defensive backs I interviewed at the Senior Bowl and combine.”
Pretty impressive for a guy that a small but persistent contingent of the UGA fan base didn’t even consider to be the best quarterback on the team!
Another Bulldogs quarterback showing up in the Athlon Top 10 was David Greene, two spots behind Murray at No. 7. Greene, they noted, “led the Dawgs to their first SEC title in two decades as a sophomore and was named an All-SEC passer in each of his upperclass seasons. He left school as the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with 42 wins in his career. He was the SEC’s all-time leading passer until Murray broke his record in 2013.”
Also on the list were Matthew Stafford (No. 18) and D.J. Shockley (No. 23).
This brought to mind something I wrote five years ago after an Athens Banner-Herald survey of Bulldog football insiders asked their choice as Georgia’s greatest quarterback ever. The overall winner in the ABH survey was Greene, who at the time still had the record as the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback, followed by sentimental favorite Buck Belue (who led the Dogs to a national championship), Fran Tarkenton, Charley Trippi (who played QB as well as halfback), Johnny Rauch, Eric Zeier, Shockley and Stafford.
As I put it then: “If I’m pinned down on the subject, I have to equivocate a little by saying it depends on whether you’re talking Georgia’s greatest college quarterback or greatest quarterback, period. As a college QB, I don’t think you can argue with the cool reliability and winning record of Greenie, so I’d go along with the results of the survey. But if you take their entire career as a quarterback into consideration, not just their time in Athens, I don’t see any way Tarkenton doesn’t top the list by a mile.”
Then, a year ago, another Athlon Sports ranking put Murray, who still had one more season to play, a spot ahead of Greene on a list of the top 50 quarterbacks of the BCS era, noting that he had already “blown past [Greene's] touchdown totals and will easily pass his win total and passing yards. He could easily rewrite the SEC passing record books and simply needs to finish a season in Atlanta with a win to entrench his legacy in Dawgs lore.” At the time, my view was that, until Murray did that, Greenie deserved the higher ranking.
And last July, coming up with my all-time UGA football team, I picked Greene and Tarkenton as my quarterbacks.
But now Murray has completed his career in Athens, in which he led the Dogs to four consecutive bowls, two SEC Eastern Division titles and a national Top 5 finish in 2012 thanks to only the third season in school history with 12 or more wins. His 36 wins as the Bulldogs’ starter were highlighted by going 3-0 versus Florida in his last three seasons and by topping Georgia Tech during all three of his starts against the Yellow Jackets.
By the time he went down with a knee injury on Senior Day in the next to last regular season game, No. 11 had set 27 Georgia records, and is the holder of four SEC records (total offense, passing yards, touchdown passes and completions), finishing with 13,562 yards of total offense (13th in the overall NCAA record books at the time), 13,166 yards passing (10th overall in the NCAA record books at the time), 121 touchdown passes (tied for sixth in the NCAA record books at the time) and 921 completions. In addition, Murray became the first player in SEC history to have at least 3,000 yards passing in four consecutive seasons.
His senior season saw him named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week twice following impressive wins over South Carolina and LSU teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time, and he was an Associated Press All-SEC Second Team selection. In only 11 games played in 2013, he threw for 3,075 yards passing and 26 touchdowns.
And all that was in addition to winning the National Scholar-Athlete Award for his work in the community and in the classroom, where the Georgia quarterback unbelievably graduated early and started a doctorate degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. A winner no matter how you look at him.
But is he Georgia’s all-time greatest quarterback? It depends on your criteria. If you go by championships won, Murray falls about 5 yards or 5 seconds short. Greene won an SEC championship, as did Tarkenton. Belue won a couple, plus a national championship. Even Shockley in his one season as UGA’s starter got an SEC title ring.
And, for many, Greene remains the top choice because he was the on-field leader as Mark Richt turned the Georgia football program around and made it once again nationally relevant.
As I’ve said before, Greene was the coolest quarterback I’ve ever seen, the most adept at faking the handoff, and could make some of the prettiest, most precise passes imaginable.
But if I had a team that was trailing late, with the clock running out, there’s no QB I’d want behind center more than Aaron Murray, whose late-game heroics almost would have begun to seem routine had they not been so consistently thrilling.
Picking between Murray and Greene is tough. I’d like to rank them as co-No. 1s on my all-time UGA quarterbacks list, with the same asterisk concerning Tarkenton’s overall career that I mentioned five years ago.
But if I have to pick just one, I’m going to bite the bullet and go with Murray as Georgia’s all-time greatest quarterback.
He may not have brought home a title, but in addition to racking up all those records he helped Mike Bobo make Georgia’s offense one of the most prolific and dangerous in the country, despite frequently lacking a consistent offensive line in front of him or a reliable running back.
He’s also one of the most impressive young men I’ve ever seen participate in big-time college athletics of any sort. I think anyone who backs the Georgia Bulldogs can point to Murray’s career at UGA with great pride.
OK, your turn. Who do you consider UGA’s all-time greatest quarterback?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg