Where should Aaron Murray rank among UGA’s all-time greatest quarterbacks?

Aaron Murray rewrote the record books during his four years at Georgia. (University of Georgia)

Aaron Murray rewrote the record books during his four years at Georgia. (University of Georgia)

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).

David Greene left UGA as the NCAA's winningest quarterback. (Associated Press)

David Greene left UGA as the NCAA's winningest quarterback. (Associated Press)

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.

Frank Tarkenton, who spent many years in the NFL, had the greatest overall career of any UGA quarterback. (University of Georgia)

Frank Tarkenton, who spent many years in the NFL, had the greatest overall career of any UGA quarterback. (University of Georgia)

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

321 comments Add your comment

Owen Scott, III

March 8th, 2014
11:43 am

Without the weird ending of the 2012 SEC Championship game, there would be no doubt it’s Murray. Even so, I still rate him #1 as a Georgia college QB.

Owen Scott, III

March 8th, 2014
11:44 am

(Who’s on first?)

DIT

March 8th, 2014
11:53 am

I say flip Green and Murray. Green did get them an SEC Championship. I still have to put that over any records. Murray was a great SEC QB no doubt. Being in the top 10 is nothing to sniff over.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

March 8th, 2014
12:03 pm

In my opinion Murray is #1 among UGA QB’s

Murray couldnt help he played behind a poorly recruited and coached O-line

2012, Georgia gave up 29 sacks, ranking it ninth in the SEC in pass protection.
2011, Georgia gave up 33 sacks, ranking eighth in the SEC and 85th nationally.
2010, Georgia gave up 24 sacks, ranking seventh in the SEC and 62nd nationally.”

He didnt have a well coached defense like Greene did

And after all that he still broke records

DawgVoiceofReason

March 8th, 2014
12:07 pm

Well done article, Bill. I think it’s tough to pick one best QB. There are so many factors to consider. And every QB’s performance is affected by, positively or negatively, by the players around him, even down to the defense and special teams, if you think about it.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

March 8th, 2014
12:10 pm

And poorly coached special teams

For examples feel free to watch UGA vs LSU in 2011 SEC championship game

DawgVoiceofReason

March 8th, 2014
12:11 pm

I do believe, that over his career, Murray took more cheap shots from certain opposing defenses than any college QB I have ever seen. Number one by a landslide there, unfortunately for him and UGA. Amazingly, until the Kentucky game his final season, he got up and kept fighting after every one. No question he was a great QB for UGA, as you indicated, both on and off the field.

LADawg

March 8th, 2014
12:13 pm

The prettiest play in college football was Aaron’s back shoulder throws down field to covered receivers through the tiniest ot windows. Then there’s Greenie’s deft ball handling, faking every body in the stadium including the camera people with a fake hand-off then tossing the ball to wide open receivers.

Both favorites but I’d pick Murray because he was a leader on immensly talented teams that was devoid of leadership…and that includes the coaching staff.

If Aaron was at Bama rather than McCarron, with their talent, especially the offensive line, and coaching, the Tide would have won at least one more NC.

Delusionaldog

March 8th, 2014
12:15 pm

We talkin’ Ol’ Boxscore Murray?

DawgVoiceofReason

March 8th, 2014
12:15 pm

Another factor, in evaluating QB play, is of course coaching. Coach Bobo usually gave Murray every chance to shine as a passing QB. I think he could have been more of a factor running over his career too, as we saw in at least two of the Tennessee games in his career. But, he might not have played as many games either, if he had run more during his career.

Delusionaldog

March 8th, 2014
12:16 pm

Any QB who actually won the SEC would be ranked ahead of Boxscore.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

March 8th, 2014
12:17 pm

If anyone watched the Alabama Oklahoma Sugar bowl game; you would get an idea of how Mccarron would look behind a UGA O-line

DawgVoiceofReason

March 8th, 2014
12:17 pm

Delusionaldog,

You are no UGA fan and are clueless if you have no more appreciation, or comprehension, than to label Murray that way.

kelly

March 8th, 2014
12:23 pm

A MURRAY is the best quarterback in UGA history and always will be.. he puts in 110 percent of himself on and off the field.. he is a smart guy in college studies and the way he studies football too. he will succeed in what ever career he chooses to… we all will miss you Murray.. GO DAWGS. … ugacolumbusgafan..

LADawg

March 8th, 2014
12:31 pm

Delusionaldog, I agree with DawgVoice. I have never seen a QB that was more dedicated to winning than Murray. Granted, sometimes he could not overcome the obstacles the coaching staff put before him, but he was 100% invested on every play of every game he participated in while many of his teammates were taking plays off.

I would think it would wear on a QB to constantly have to make big play after big play because the D is giving up 30+ points a game. Making many of those big plays did add to his stats but a lesser QB would have crumbled under the pressure.

doggoneit

March 8th, 2014
12:41 pm

If we would of had a better defense Murrey hands down. good riddens of TG

Doubledawg

March 8th, 2014
12:49 pm

Greene was steadier all 4 years whereas Murray really developed more as a junior and really as a senior. Greene played with a much better defense and didn’t have as much pressure to score 35-40 points in order to secure a win. That said, I give the edge to Murray. I think had Murray played during the Greene years he would have played better (than Greene). And had Greene played the last 4 years he would have much more pressure to perform and to score 2-3 extra TD’s per game and likely faltered. Both were really solid college QB’s.

The Geezer

March 8th, 2014
12:53 pm

Aaron Murray, David Greene, Matthew Stafford, and D.J. Shockley were all winners both on the field and off the field for Georgia. Mark Richt has done a great job of recruiting and developing talented QB’s during his years in Athens.

I am of the opinion that Aaron was the best QB on the Georgia team from day 1 of his 4 years in Athens. He was a great passer, but I saw him save us too many times using his legs when our running backs could not get free. Zach was a talented QB but looked like a slow unbalanced stork when he had to scramble and run at LSU.

Joe Cox and Joe T. were both great Dogs with a lot of heart and played hard, but they really had to bust it to get wins in the SEC.

Castle Pines Canine

March 8th, 2014
12:59 pm

Well how do not pick Tarkenton! I think it would be Fran,Murray, Stafford,Bratkowski,Zier, Trippi Rauch, Greene,.moore,Goff/Robinson Ridleheuber

tell me again

March 8th, 2014
1:05 pm

If he would have had a consistently decent O line and any kind of a defense – he would have been a legend. As it is – he is still the poster boy for what you want in a college player at ANY position – on the field, in the classroom or in the community. We at UGA can be D**N proud Murray was and will always be a Dawg!

Hunkerdown

March 8th, 2014
1:44 pm

When Murray was in a groove he was unstoppable. Of course the knock on AM was he fizzled in the big games. However, he was quite impressive against Bama in the SEC champ game as well as against LSU and SC this season. If the Dawgs OL could of blown people up and we had a fiercer running game could you only imagine where that would of placed AM in Dawg history.

Lou

March 8th, 2014
1:45 pm

I rank Murray #1 all-time UGA QB’s. He didn’t have the championships but his stats are great and he was a great leader. I’d probably rank it something like this 1.Murray 2.Zeier 3.Stafford 4.Greene 5.Tarkenton. It’s really subjective however.

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

March 8th, 2014
1:50 pm

Yea I would rank Zeir #2

Did anyone coach those teams Zeir played for?

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

March 8th, 2014
1:51 pm

Logical Dawg Fan

March 8th, 2014
2:06 pm

I rate Murray as the greatest Georgia quarterback. It is tough to compare different quarterbacks because of different head coaches, different personnel around each quarterback, etc. I have been a big fan of Murray’s since he first started playing for Georgia, but this season he really justified being an elite quarterback. At the start of the season, I told people “Until Murray plays better in big games, I’ll take David Greene over Murray.” However, Murray was absolutely brilliant against South Carolina and LSU in back-to-back games on the big stage against top-10 teams. And when the game mattered most against Tennessee and LSU, Murray orchestrated a game-winning and game-tying drive in those games rather than fizzling. He handled the pressure of those two games like Drew Brees would. And if it hadn’t been for Harvey-Clemons’ boneheaded decision at the end of the Auburn game, Murray would have knocked off three top-10 teams instead of two. Nonetheless, that doesn’t take away from his incredible fourth quarter performance in which he was unbelievable.And props to Auburn for their improvement this season.

The fact is, Murray justified the doubts this year and showed he’s the best Georgia quarterback ever in my opinion. Greene was incredible as well, but he had the benefit of always having a top-20 or so ranked defense behind him, while three of Murray’s four years, his defenses were lousy. Defense wins championships and our lack of defense cost Murray the chance to do more things his senior year, without a doubt. But at least in the future, Georgia’s defense will be much improved thanks to Jeremy Pruitt and his new assistants. Thanks for everything Murray, and go dawgs!

Flat Tire doesnt live in Delusionalville Ga.

March 8th, 2014
2:28 pm

poor special teams will cost you 1 or 2 games as well

DawgVoiceofReason

March 8th, 2014
2:42 pm

Logical Dawg Fan,

Great comment! Some excellent observations and analysis.

Quayvon Hicks

March 8th, 2014
2:45 pm

The best to ever do it IMO

DawginColorado

March 8th, 2014
2:47 pm

Undoubtedly Murray. A little better defense and he would have had at least 1 SEC championship and maybe more. The later being highly doubtful but possible. He carried the team last year at points during the great injury plague. I sure hope somebody gives him an honest shot in the NFL.

Rafe Hollister

March 8th, 2014
2:56 pm

Best UGA QB, David Greene bar none, followed by Zeier, Belue, Murray, Stafford, Goff.

Best UGA QB in a career, you have to take Tarkenton, Zeke Bratkowski, Matt Robinson, Stafford, Zeier, and Larry Rakestraw,

1969 Graduate

March 8th, 2014
3:07 pm

I have no idea how to answer this sort of riddle, given all the confounding variables, but we’ve had some great quarterbacks. Aaron Murray was right up there, and would be hard to top. As others have said, what could he have done with a better line, better defense, or better special teams. With all three, who would have rivaled him?

DawgByte

March 8th, 2014
3:08 pm

Georgia fans need time to reflect. When they do they’ll truly appreciate the greatness of Aaron Murray.

The most talented QB I’ve ever seen wear a Red & Black uniform was Matt Stafford. That type of arm comes around once every 15 years.

Glory between the hedges

March 8th, 2014
3:16 pm

The defenses that Greene had behind him compared to what Murray had are not even comparable. Give Murray our Van Gorder defenses that we had and Murray is probably holding up a couple of conf titles along with a BCS title. With that said, I am still a bigger David Greene fan. I truly believe if Shockley wouldn’t of been put in that Florida game, we would of won the national title in 2002. We were hot coming out of that SEC title game.

ShowMeYurTD's

March 8th, 2014
3:26 pm

Tarkenton hands down followed by Greene. Murray 8th or 9th only because of sub par coaching.

Joey M

March 8th, 2014
3:28 pm

You had me till you said Murry did not have a reliable running back. Technically I guess that is right, he had 2. Todd Gurley and Kieth Marshal. By the end of their college careers, they will both be Top 10 Draft Picks. While they were not as good as Hershel, they were every bit as good as anything the SEC or any other conference put out there. I would take Belue off this list. He had Hershel Walker to hand the ball to. You could have put a 9 year old under center and with Hershel running the ball they still would have won the National Title. Or worse, even Mike Bobo would have won with Hershel.

rchris

March 8th, 2014
3:37 pm

You didn’t mention my nominee for best UGA QB ever. Like Belue, he led the Dogs to a national championship, albeit a disputed one. He was the only Bulldog who played QB (although he played some HB as well) to win a Heisman trophy, in fact the only one besides Hershel to do so. Like Tarkenton, he had a successful (though much shorter) NFL career, winning the NFL MVP award one year. He didn’t win as many games as Greene, but his last 2 seasons the Dogs won 20 games. He set records like Murray, including the NCAA total offense record. His name was Frank Sinkwich.

joe

March 8th, 2014
4:06 pm

Murray, Murray, Murray–no doubt, no doubt no doubt.

PMR

March 8th, 2014
4:14 pm

I CANNOT believe AJ McCarron is mentioned as a good QB period. He just happened to be playing on those teams. Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck would have done just as good as AJ McCarron. He will never play a down in the NFL.

Moist Dawg

March 8th, 2014
4:29 pm

this one of the toughest questions ive seen on the ajc. bama and tech dont have this problem. amurraygency is easly the most prolific qb in sec history way better then payton and he has the numbers to proove it. or is it greene or even tarkenton or belue or dare i say mason? the best answer i can come up with is that uga should be known as quarterback u something even a tech fan cant deny.

DawgNole

March 8th, 2014
4:30 pm

“. . . and his 13,562 yards of total offense bested Tebow’s record by a large margin (12,232) . . . .”
_____________________

The margin–albeit significant–wasn’t THAT large. Try 1,330 yards.

I know, I know; that’s not what you meant, right?

In any event, had he won a championship, it would be difficult to put Murray behind any of the UGA greats at QB.

HotDawg

March 8th, 2014
4:32 pm

Let’s hope Hutson Mason can jump on the list like DJ did. With a championship.

HotDawg

March 8th, 2014
4:36 pm

Eric Zeier should have been higher. He was amazing. UGA didn’t have a very good defense most of his career.

HotDawg

March 8th, 2014
4:38 pm

No kidding, Bobo was a pretty good quarterback. And Hines Ward had his moments behind center. Especially in his Peach Bowl performance.

HotDawg

March 8th, 2014
4:40 pm

Frank Sinkwich, a gentleman and a Damn Good Dawg!

Bill King

March 8th, 2014
4:45 pm

Sinkwich was a legend. But he was primarily a halfback and fullback.

Bill King

March 8th, 2014
4:48 pm

DawgNole: That was a quote from Athlon. But, yes, that’s not what they meant.

Bill King

March 8th, 2014
4:50 pm

Joey M: That was in the context of his entire career. Murray had extremely reliable tailbacks his last two seasons (at least, until they both got hurt last year). But his first two seasons, not so much.

DawgVoiceofReason

March 8th, 2014
5:08 pm

In the 2011 SEC championship we essentially had no running game. With any help at all Murray could have led the team to victory. The D was stout in the first half and then collapsed.

RHall55

March 8th, 2014
5:25 pm

Many of the fans are correct in what obstacles Murray had to overcome….bungled Coaching calls, poor OL play, Special Teams Spoofs, and at times very, very poor defense…..hopefully, most of these issues will be handled (keep a watchful eye on the OL play) this year….TIME FOR CMR TO WIN A NC!!!

Vampire Bill

March 8th, 2014
5:27 pm

I agree with you Bill, it’s Murray, with Greene so very close. The nod goes to Murray because of how he handled himself off the field and his SEC records. Not to belittle David Greene who is a fine man himself but Murray accomplished more despite not getting a SEC championship.