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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?
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
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
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
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
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