ATHENS -- Four years ago, Mike Bobo looked around the meeting of his Georgia quarterbacks and silently gulped.
A redshirt freshman. A true freshman. Two walk-ons, who were also freshmen. And that was it. No one who had played a down of college football, and there was only one player who had been on the team for a season.
“That’s a scary situation,” Bobo said.
Four years later, Georgia’s quarterback room has become an enviable situation. While many programs are regularly seeing tumult at the game’s most important position, there is none at Georgia and hasn’t been since that scary 2010.
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Aaron Murray, that redshirt freshman in 2010, went on to make the next 51 starts. When he suffered a torn ACL in November, he was replaced by Hutson Mason, a fourth-year junior.
Now Mason heads into the 2014 offseason as the presumed starter, and the team can easily project out to who will battle for the job in 2015: Faton Bauta, a third-year sophomore this year, or Brice Ramsey, a redshirt freshman. Or perhaps it will be Jacob Park, who just enrolled in school this month.
In other words, the scary situation that struck Georgia’s defense this year -- youth and inexperience -- doesn’t look likely to hit quarterback any time soon.
“You want stability,” said Bobo, himself a former Georgia quarterback. “It’s good for the program. It’s good not just because you’ve got someone next in line, but you’ve got competition year in and year out at practice, day in and day out.”
Time will tell if Mason and the other quarterbacks can be as productive as Murray. But what they won’t have to do, barring injuries, is play right away. Murray might be the last freshman (redshirt or not) to start Georgia’s opener for a long time. The last true freshman for a while to start any game at quarterback could be Matthew Stafford, who started in 2006.
Georgia’s depth chart is allowing everyone to come in and redshirt, learn the playbook and then compete.
“It’s a huge advantage,” Ramsey said. “You get that extra year. You’re just bigger, stronger, smarter with everything you need to do. You’re not forced to go be on the field at that point.”
Murray might have been thrown into a starting job early, but he at least had the benefit of that redshirt season. Last month he called that “probably the best thing” for his career.
“I thought my first year man I could play, put me in there. But looking back now I was nowhere near mentally ready to play,” Murray said. “It’s a very tough playbook to pick up. Coach Bobo really does a great job of putting a lot on our plate, which is awesome. He involves a lot in the offense of putting checks, a lot of responsibility on the quarterback, and it’s tough to come right in as a freshman and understand all of our concepts, all of our checking, all of our declarations. To get that year under your belt, to get a couple years under your belt, is great.”
Of course, experience in the system doesn’t always equate success on the field. Georgia found that out the year after Stafford left.
So now the concern is whether it can avoid a big drop-off from Murray, who leaves the program as one of the most prolific passers in SEC history.
The coaches have long thought enough of Mason that they talked him out of transferring twice, letting him redshirt in 2012 so he could be the starter in 2014. In fact, Bobo said that at one point Mason was playing well enough in spring practice that it served as a warning to Murray.
“Two springs ago Hutson was really outperforming him,” Bobo said. “It was like a wake-up call. He worked even harder and had a great camp.”
That speaks to the competition that Georgia is hoping will push Ramsey, Bauta and Park in the future -- or even Mason this year.
“You don’t ever want a guy saying, ‘I’m safe, it’s my job,’ and the guy behind him thinking, ‘Oh it’s my job in two years,’ ” Bobo said. “No, it’s your job to compete every day, and that’s what I talk about constantly. You’ve got to compete every day to move up that depth chart and take somebody’s position. And if you’re the guy on top, you’ve got to fight like mad to be that guy.”
It remains to be seen whether Georgia’s offense can stay prolific without Murray. But four years later, the future of the position looks much healthier than when he arrived.