ATHENS – It seems inarguable that quarterback is the most important position in team sports. You could argue for a baseball pitcher, a hockey goalie, or an SEC compliance director, but it really always comes down to the man who lines up under center.
The man who has occupied that spot at Georgia the past two seasons, and will for perhaps two more, is Aaron Murray. There are a few nit-pickers out there who aren’t Murray’s biggest fans, and yes, the Tampa native hasn’t been great, but he has certainly been good for two seasons.
As we have examined the most important Georgia players for the upcoming season, we have mostly focused on players who will seek to answer questions or concerns. Here is how that list has looked so far:
10. Corey Moore, sophomore safety
9. Isaiah Crowell, sophomore tailback
8. John Theus, freshman tackle
7. Shawn Williams, senior safety
6. Jarvis Jones, junior linebacker
5. Kenarious Gates, junior offensive lineman
4. Damian Swann, sophomore cornerback
3. Marshall Morgan, freshman kicker
Now it’s the turn for that all-important quarterback:
WHY HE'S VITAL: Murray merits the second spot in this ranking almost purely because of his position. Two years ago, when he entered the season as an unknown quantity, he would have been No. 1. But as he has shown he belongs as an SEC quarterback, and provided steady leadership, he has given way to other players in terms of the expectations and concerns department. (Isaiah Crowell would have been No. 1 on this list last year. And No. 1 this year will be … you can probably guess by now, but you can find out officially soon.) Murray has already started to pop up on some Heisman watch lists. If he has that kind of a season, then it could be enough to lift Georgia to an SEC championship. If he at least replicates his first two seasons, then he puts his teammates in a position to achieve that title goal. Or put another way, Georgia doesn’t NEED Murray to have a great season, it just needs what he has already done, along with a few less key mistakes here and there. If Murray has a worse season somehow, then the team will be in a bit of trouble, and will need some help in other areas – like that run game, where Mr. Crowell and those offensive lineman come in. But the most important thing Murray can do is stay healthy – Hutson Mason, who would take off the redshirt if something happens to Murray, is unproven. And the depth at quarterback overall is very thin.
QUOTABLE: “There’s still a lot of room for improvement there. We’re still a little bit streaky there. It’s a lot to do with his footwork, when he gets antsy there and wants to get off-balance. I don’t want to change him from being him, making plays with his legs, which he’s done some for us this year on third downs. But at the same time when you’re going to be a pocket passer you’ve got to be on balance when you throw. And I’d say 90 percent of the bad throws he makes have been on his feet.” – Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, speaking about Murray.
BEST CASE: Murray … wins the Heisman? Okay, let’s be realistic: Murray just siphons votes from Crowell, and they finish two-three behind Jarvis Jones. … Seriously, the best case is an outstanding, all-SEC season from Murray, which isn’t at all unreasonable. He finally earns some signature victories over quality opponents, including at Missouri and South Carolina, the SEC championship game, and whatever comes after that.
WORST CASE: Beyond a serious injury, which would probably derail Georgia’s season, the worst-case scenario is Murray falling prey to more ill-timed turnovers, and not having it in the Bulldogs’ biggest games. If he does struggle – let’s say 15-plus turnovers, and less than 2,500 passing yards – it’s hard to see Georgia winning more than eight games.
FINAL WORD: Murray has the stats and accolades, but his legacy will ultimately be judged by wins and losses. He knows that.
Next up: The series wraps up with the most important player for Georgia's success in 2012. (At least as far as we can tell now.)