On the heels of a story about UGA’s choice to avoid a Heisman “campaign” for their star quarterback this season, a very simple question has arisen.
Is Aaron Murray really a Heisman candidate?
Yes, he has been named to various Heisman “watch” lists in the preseason, but because of the fact that we went through this exact process a season ago, there is legitimate concern about Murray’s candidacy. First, let’s take a quick glance at the positive things that Murray has going in his direction:
Quarterback on a “Great” Team - This one obviously has the asterisk that Georgia has to actually be a great team, which we won’t know for a few months. The Heisman trophy finalists are, more often that not, comprised of at least a few quarterbacks, and they are almost always the leaders of top-10 caliber teams. Georgia is ranked in the top-10 in a few places and in the top-20 absolutely everywhere in the preseason, so for now, this is a positive for Murray.
Experience – Murray is a true veteran on the college football landscape, having made 41 starts in his first 3 seasons. He is a household name (at least in the South), and that always helps with national Heisman voters.
The Numbers – This could go both ways, but Murray’s numbers are pretty impressive. He is on pace to shatter every single SEC passing record (a great resume builder), but he doesn’t have the “jump off the page” numbers in any one season. In 2012, Murray turned in his best season, throwing for 3,893 yards (64.5% completion percentage) with 36 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. Those are fantastic numbers for any college quarterback, but when you compare them to the staggering numbers of previous Heisman winners (47 TD’s for Johnny Manziel or nearly 5,000 total yards from RGIII), his stats suddenly look a bit ordinary.
Opportunity – Not every team in the country has the exposure that Georgia has, and that works in the favor of Murray if he can put together a dream season. The Bulldogs will take on 5 teams that are ranked in the preseason (Clemson, South Carolina, LSU, Vanderbilt, and Florida) and with the new SEC media contract with ESPN, virtually all of his snaps will be nationally televised. Throw in the real possibility of a rematch with Alabama in the SEC Title game? All the chips are on the table.
Of course, for every positive, there is also a negative side to the story, and it won’t be an easy run for Murray to New York for the Heisman ceremony. Here are a few things going against Mr. Murray’s pursuit:
The Offense – Aaron Murray attempted 386 passes in 14 games last season. On the surface, that seems like a lot, right? Well, some of the other top quarterbacks in the nation attempted over one hundred more passes last year as Mike Glennon (564), Landry Jones (555), Geno Smith (518), Ryan Nassib (471), Johnny Manziel (434), and Tahj Boyd (427) easily surpassed him in attempts. While it isn’t always about pure volume, his yardage total will be directly linked to attempts, and that could be a knock at the end of the year.
The Running Backs – Going along with the setback of offensive scheme, Georgia is blessed with one of the best running back duos in the country. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined to rush for over 2,000 yards last season… as freshman. Something tells me that at least one of those guys is going to replicate (or exceed) his output, and that further puts the constraints on Murray’s stats.
No Rushing Yards – Of the past 5 Heisman winners from the QB position, only Sam Bradford didn’t rush for at least 650 yards in their Heisman season, and 3 of the 4 winners exceeded 1,000 yards on the ground. Obviously, Aaron Murray doesn’t have the wheels of Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Tim Tebow, but it isn’t even about that. Murray rushed for -68 yards last season. Yes, he had a negative rushing total. As far as his actual play, this isn’t a big deal to me, but it will certainly make things more difficult, and Bradford needed a 50-touchdown passing season to win the award without rushing stats.
In the end, Aaron Murray has a legitimate chance to win the Heisman trophy… but he’s going to need to make a leap even from his tremendous junior season. Murray’s best attribute is his efficiency, and he led the entire country in yards per attempt while coming in 2nd in passing efficiency to Alabama’s AJ McCarron. Because of the reasons I laid out against him, I don’t believe I would project Murray as a top-5 Heisman favorite, but he would still be in my top 10 and with the recent track record of Heisman winners emerging from nowhere, anything is possible. Either way, Georgia fans should feel blessed to have the services of the sometimes maligned Murray, and he should be a tremendous asset as a senior.