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Aaron Murray vs. AJ McCarron: Which senior QB reigns supreme?

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Aaron Murray or AJ McCarron?

The debate wages on between two of the most decorated and talented quarterbacks to ever come through the SEC. AJ McCarron is searching for his third (third!) national championship in a row, while Aaron Murray will become the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns in ‘13 in search of his first SEC Championship.

Both players have been outstanding for their programs, and they are one year away from entering the NFL and hopefully taking their careers to the next level.

Entering 2013, Murray has 10,901 passing yards, 95 touchdowns and 32 INTs in three seasons, while McCarron has 5,956 yards, 49 touchdowns and 8 INTs in two seasons.

But aside from the shear stats and the differing offenses, which senior QB is the best player? What a tough question to answer.

Along with arguably the best overall offensive player in the country in Johnny Manziel, Murray and McCarron help create the biggest trio of returning quarterbacks ever in the SEC…and maybe the country.

Let’s compare each pro-style QB’s skills in different categories, shall we?

Leadership

Murray has shined since he was handed the keys to the program as a redshirt freshman. He excelled as a passer, bettered his game every year and eclipsed three straight 3,000-yard seasons as the only quarterback in SEC history to accomplish that feat. He hasn’t fared well against top ten teams (4-10) throughout his career, but there’s plenty of blame to go around, and Murray shouldn’t shoulder that burden solely. However, the fact remains, Murray is still SEC Championship-less after getting to Atlanta in back-to-back years. Will his leadership ability be questioned once more if he can’t accomplish that feat as a senior in 2013, or will that more fall on Mark Richt? The Bulldogs’ offense could be tops in the conference.

McCarron’s leadership has been somewhat overshadowed by a nasty line of offensive and defensive leaders. Players like Dont’a Hightower, CJ Mosley, Trent Richardson and Barrett Jones all received more leadership ink. But just last year, he started to assert himself more as an overall leader, and the team responded. His 25-2 overall record speaks for itself, and his presence and impact on the biggest stage the last two years in the biggest games is also overlooked. McCarron is 43 of 62 for 498 yards and 4 touchdowns in two consecutive national championship wins. A leader – to me – steps up on the biggest stage and delivers. McCarron has proven that.

Advantage: AJ McCarron

Arm talent

AJ McCarron is one of the most polished pocket passers in the country, but there’s no denying the dominance of the Tide’s offensive line over the last two years in helping McCarron look great in the pocket. He moves well with great fundamentals and footwork, and he throws one of the best deep balls in the country, as he completed 85.7 percent of his passes from 35-39 yards in 2012. While McCarron throws one of the best deep balls, it’s not with the strongest arm, but it’s more than adequate and accurate.

Murray, on the other hand, has one of the strongest arms in college football, routinely throwing strikes with velocity and zip, whether either inside or outside the pocket. Now, he may not complete a higher percentage of his passes downfield, but it’s not because of the lack of arm strength. Murray’s arm talent and passing ability is the biggest key to Georgia’s balanced offensive scheme, and it makes Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall even nastier. I give the edge to Murray in raw arm talent, and I think he can make all the throws the pro game would ever require. There’s still more to both players’ games that will be uncovered in 2013.

Advantage: Aaron Murray

Game management

If any college quarterback gets the ‘game manager’ label, it’s usually looked down upon and seen as a knock rather than a compliment. But game management is usually a very overlooked aspect of the totality of quarterback play.

Murray understands how to break down coverage quickly, inside or outside the pocket. However, if there was one area that is concerning – outside of not playing well in big games – it would be his turnover total. Murray’s thrown 32 INTs in three years, averaging more than 10 per year. One concern about Murray’s game is his touchdown to INT ratio. Against ranked teams, Murray’s touchdown to INT ratio is 1.87 (28 TDs, 15 INTs), while averaging a 55.3 completion rate.

On the other hand, McCarron has a track record for being a game manager. And his evolution from becoming Alabama’s biggest liability on offense into one of its strongest assets has been fun to watch. His management skills show from the pocket, often hitting receivers in stride with pinpoint accuracy on short, medium and long throws, although it’s not quite with the pizzazz Murray has. McCarron has a 3.5 touchdown to INT ratio (14-4) against top 25 opponents, where he’s 10-2 overall. He’s thrown just 8 INTs in 27 career starts. I’m a sucker for a good game manager.

Advantage: AJ McCarron

Athleticism

We haven’t seen AJ McCarron run for his life against SEC defenses yet. Why? His offensive line has had superior pass protection over the last two years. That’s not a knock on McCarron or Alabama; it’s just the reality and justification of a superior offensive line. McCarron is adequate moving around the pocket, and he’s not slow by any stretch. Alabama doesn’t run any zone-read handoffs because McCarron isn’t that fleet afoot, nor is it based on what Doug Nussmeier is trying to accomplish on offense. McCarron was listed as a 4.8 40-yard dash runner exiting high school.

Murray is an underrated athlete overall with above-average speed and running skills. Murray has had to show his athleticism and movement inside and outside the pocket the last three years. His offensive line has always had question marks, and it does once more entering 2013. Murray has the ability to extend plays outside the pocket allowing his receivers to shake DBs and get open. Georgia runs very few zone-read plays, because protecting Murray is much more important than risking him on running plays.

Neither Murray nor McCarron are explosive elite athletes, but the better athlete of the two is Aaron Murray.

Advantage: Aaron Murray

Conclusion

McCarron and Murray are both different pro-style quarterbacks in different pro-style offenses. Inserting McCarron in Georgia’s offense, could he put up the same numbers Murray has over his career? Likewise, could Murray keep Alabama on top and win back-to-back national championships? These two tough questions are better answered as ‘they are perfect for their teams and systems’.

Georgia relies much more on Murray’s arm than Alabama does on McCarron’s.

If backed into a corner and Jadeveon Clowney made me choose between the two, I’d give the nod to McCarron. I love Murray and his individual accomplishments, but he’s a high-risk, high-reward gunslinger. And maybe I’m not feeling too risky today.

I want a quarterback who’s cool, calm and collected on the big stage. And McCarron has proven that. If McCarron does accomplish the feat of a three-peat, will he be regarded as the best quarterback in BCS history? Probably not, but one could certainly make a strong case.

I want the better game manager and more consistent player against the best teams to lead my college offense, and I can build around that.

But if we’re talking about projecting which player will be a better NFL prospect, that’s a completely different debate.

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports





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Comments 39

  1. Since when is leadership measured by wins? Murray has practically been the leader at UGA since his freshmen year.

    • Since when is the mark of a good leader leading his team into a loss? I love Murray and think he is one of the best quarterback the SEC has ever seen. When you compare the way Murray and McCarron carry themselves as leaders McCarron has the edge, and I honestly think that translates into wins, and big wins at that.

      • So how many of those “big” wins were impacted by the QB play of McCarron?…and please tell me LSU and UGA where a Yeldon screen pass and an underthrown play action TD with no safeties back were elite QB plays.

        • I would say 100% of the wins (and loses) are impacted by McCarron, as are the the wins and loses of every team by their quarterback. McCarron’s leadership and talent have a huge impact every time he takes a snap. Nit-picking every bad play he’s ever made is ridiculous, even your golden child Murray has thrown one or two bad passes. Like I said earlier I love and respect Aaron Murray as a quarterback and a model of what a SEC quarterback should be, however, AJ McCarron’s play making and leadership ability sets him apart and brings home crystal trophies and gaudy rings.

        • Every quarterback does not have the same effect…Saban has a system in place that does not allow the quarterback to win or lose the game. It isn’t a knock on AJ it’s just a tribute to the OL and defense. His rings have nothing to do with him being a better QB. It is just a symbol of him being a role player in a system that is better than anyone else.

        • Is AJ McCarron a better QB than Peyton Manning? Tom Brady? Drew Brees? RG3? Andrew Luck? Matt Stafford? None of these quarterbacks won National Titles. You can’t just use the team’s achievements to enhance the individual skills of a player.

        • Rich!!! LOL

        • jpdawgfan1, you should know that stats are for losers. Unless you forgot, the object is to win the game and that’s what AJ does. he has two NC rings which is more than the entire GA football program.

        • Actually we have 2 NCs…well 5 if ya count pre WW2 like Alabama does

  2. McCarron is hands down the best QB in the SEC and also in all of college football. He never panics under pressure and there’s no doubt he’s a leader.

  3. I would take AJ McCarron. Such a stud on the big stage, and he never lets his team down. Sure, there was Texas A&M and the pick at the goal line, but when faced with adversity and a loss, he bounced back and won a national championship in the best game of his career. AJ. McCarron. Hands. Down.

    • Yeah he had a pick on the goal line vs UGA as well …and a fumble…and only converted 1 first down… SUCH a stud

      • 32-28 still hurts, huh? National Champs 2012. Sorry, dawg. You are the MOST butthurt fan I’ve ever seen. Carry on boy.

        • Did you have some sort of point to make? I mean this is SUPPOSED to be a discussion about who’s the better QB, right? or did you even bother to read the above article? BOY?

  4. The only 2 UGA games I watched in full last year were when Murray lost out to McCarron in the SECCG and when he played horrendous in getting crushed by SCAR. I’ve seen McCarron take them Bama to back-to-back NCs! McCarron easily. A better argument could be made for McCarron vs Manziel than this.

  5. Tell the truth Jon….you’re just tryin to start another fight with me and the Bama drones aren’t ya?

  6. McCarron has the better looking Girl Friend….Advantage: McCarron

  7. They’re both really good. Certainly no loser here. I’d give Murray the edge here simply because Alabama has more talent & depth across the board (than anyone), and I believe I could quarterback that team to a title. Basically, Murray is doing just about as much with less around him. To me that is the greatest measure of both skill & leadership from the QB position.

  8. You want to know who the better QB is? Just look at the one Head to Head matchup…which happened to be on the biggest stage of them all:

    During the SECCG Murray Threw for 12 First Downs while AJ only passed for 5.

    On 3rd/4th Down:
    Murray dropped back 10 times to pass converting 4 and getting sacked once.
    AJ dropped Back 6 times converting only 1 and turning the ball over twice.

    2nd Half (Crunchtime):
    Murray: 11-18 for 171 yards
    AJ: 5-7 for 68 yards (45 yards on one play, which was under-thrown I might add)
    With 3 completions of 1, 2 and 2 yards He really only threw the ball down the field twice in the ENTIRE 2nd HALF! In Fact there were 4 2nd Drives that he didnt throw the ball one damn time…not once! This is the story of two totally different types of QB. One who shoulders the load on 3rd and 4th downs and in the 2nd half…and one who hands the ball off and completes the occasional deep ball when the safeties are stepping up to stop the run.

    • LOL!! Are you serious??? TOO FUNNY!

      • yup…those are all facts that prove my point….I know that’s a foreign concept for most of you Updykes but I am always happy to entertain…Now can I get a “Roll Tide”? No?..eh

    • jpdawgfan1, who won the game? Once again brain surgeon, stats are for losers.

      • EARTH TO BAMMER NATION: This article isn’t about who won won the game…with 350 rushing yards I would hope any QB could manage to win. McCarron only made one play the entire game…and it was to a WIDE open Cooper that any of us could have likely made. In fact, you could say that his two turnovers cost the tide more than that one TD. You people need a reality check. Being National Champs does not mean every damn player you have is the best in the country. If AJ is Better than Murray then I suppose Ed Stinson is better than Jadaveon Clowney too right? It doesn’t take a Brain Surgeon to see the difference…just someone who knows anything about football and doesn’t see everything through Crimson colored glasses.

  9. So I came here from a message board where someone said the most obnoxious UGA fan he had ever seen was throwing a tantrum….I was not disappointed.

    • This arguing only makes me want to see some football sooner rather than later.
      And Murray has an SEC record that McCarron can’t beat so there is a huge edge.
      I don’t have anything against Bama, y’all have a great program and every sane football fan knows the real BCS was the SEC championship last year. That was the best game I saw and the next morning the Bama fans were very respectful and all congratulated UGA on the best game they ever saw too. Hopefully see y’all back there this year.
      Oh, and Gators suck.
      Go Dawgs!

    • Obnoxious? Haha I guess defending my stance on this topic with facts is offensive? Listen your buddy was the one calling me “butt hurt” and “boy” so anything said in response to that was justified. If you read any of my posts I never claim that Bama isn’t the rightful champ or that they don’t deserve accolades. I just have the sense to see that they are not a QB driven offense and AJ is not the better QB. Think about it…Do you honestly think any DC in the conference gameplans around stopping him? C’mon man! I’ve never been disrespectful to anyone on this site that hasn’t asked for it. If you have the intellect to make a solid point and back it up then I welcome your opinion…but if your sole purpose is to harass and call names then the gloves come off. Take it as you will.

  10. OK, OK…so it seems like the National Title also makes you the best QB in the UNIVERSE…and you guys are right…AJ, Greg Mcilroy, Matt Flynn & Matt Maulk are all CLEARLY better QBs than Andrew Luck, RG3, Matt Ryan, Stafford, Russel Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton/Eli Manning, and every other QB that never won a National Title. Guess us UGA fans can start claiming Buck Belue is our best QB and much better than Heisman winner Jim Harbaugh was in 1980 too. This makes PERFECT sense.