Published March 8, 2012 - 5:55pm
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It’s hard to argue with Aaron Murray’s gaudy numbers last season.
As a sophomore at Georgia, the Tampa, Florida, native tossed a school-record 35 touchdown passes and led the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship Game during a season in which Mark Richt’s future hung in the balance following an 0-2 start.
Protected by an inexperienced offensive line and no A.J. Green on the outside, Murray still managed 3,149 yards passing with a 59.1-percent completion percentage — a shade under his accuracy rate as a freshman.
He’s easily the top returning quarterback in the SEC East — perhaps the entire conference — and he’ll be on the short list in player of the year talks at season’s thanks to Georgia’s favorable schedule.
So what’s holding Murray back from a Heisman campaign? Probably his own teammates. He won’t have to shoulder the load considering the crop of talent in the UGA backfield behind him.
All five of the Bulldogs’ leading rushers return this fall, led by SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year Isaiah Crowell. Crowell, along with Carlton Thomas, Brandon Harton, Richard Samuel and Ken Malcome are joined by a five- and a four-star signee hoping to crack a few carries.
Former Raleigh Millbrook standout Keith Marshall, who enrolled at UGA in January, says he’s still transitioning to the college environment. He’s a recent recipient of the Franklin D. Watkins Memorial Award, an honor given to the nation’s top African-American male scholar athlete.
Georgia’s other highly-touted ball carrier, Tarboro N.C.’s Todd Gurley, will have his hands full when he arrives in Athens, Georgia, this summer. He is likely to red-shirt this season.
A stable of running backs leaves Murray a clean slate toward a banner season. Assuming Georgia’s smashmouth, play-action approach is utilized again next season, expect speedster Malcolm Mitchell to have a standout campaign catching the football, along with Michael Bennett, Chris Conley and Marlon Brown.
With the pressure off of Murray in favor of a balanced ground game, his passing totals could increase — even with less attempts.
Road trips to Missouri and South Carolina are the only early-season obstacles standing in the way of Heisman talks for Murray. If the Bulldogs start 6-0 with a win in Columbia, South Carolina, on Oct. 6, my guess is Murray’s the reason.
Heisman candidates usually separate themselves in November, and luckily for Murray, the Bulldogs close the season with three of their last four games at Sanford Stadium.
If he limits interceptions and Georgia can hang around the top 10, Murray will be in New York at season’s end.