Shanks: Murray must carry Bulldogs

sports@macon.comAugust 6, 2013 

Quarterbacks are the focal point of a football team. That’s why five-star prospects are recruited so heavily. That’s why the signal-callers in the NFL get the big bucks. That’s why it was so important for the Atlanta Falcons to lock down Matt Ryan for the long-term.

Talented quarterbacks can sometimes be the single difference in what makes a team great. Look at Texas A&M last season. Sure, the Aggies had good talent, but it was a redshirt freshman named Johnny Manziel who made the Aggies great.

And if for whatever reason Manziel is not available this season, Texas A&M will go from being a national championship contender to perhaps the third or fourth best team in their own division.

Georgia, meanwhile, must depend on senior Aaron Murray to have a terrific season. He’ll be a fourth-year starter. He’ll have all five of last year’s starters on the offensive line back. He’ll have his deepest group of receivers. And he’ll be able to turn around and hand the ball off to the best duo of running backs in the country.

If Georgia is to do anything special this season, like win a national championship, then Murray has to have the season of his life.

It’s not all up to him, but let’s be honest. He’s the quarterback. If Murray doesn’t do well and struggles for whatever reason, it’s going to be tough for Georgia to pass Alabama and be in the national title hunt. How can they win anything significant if the senior quarterback has a down year?

Right now, Murray is saying all the right things. He’s not putting pressure on himself. He’s using cliches like ‘one game at a time’ and ‘being focused.’ But deep down he has to know that this season is on his shoulders.

Everything has fallen into place for Murray. Usually, Georgia has some deficiency around its strengths. But it’s hard to find anything wrong with the offense, at least on paper. That puts the spotlight clearly on the man who will touch the ball more than others.

There continues to be a label on Murray that he can’t win the big games. He can change that perception pretty quickly this season, especially in September when Georgia faces perhaps its biggest challenge. If Murray can go into Clemson and beat the Tigers and then do well at home against South Carolina (a team he has never beaten) and LSU, he might just be in the Heisman conversation.

And that would cement his legacy, along with a very important game in January. That could be what shapes the opinion of a fan base that is hungry for a championship.

Think back to Matthew Stafford, arguably the most talented quarterback in Georgia’s history. In 2007, Stafford’s sophomore season, the Bulldogs finished second in the AP poll. Then after being rated first in almost every preseason poll in 2008, Georgia went 10-3 and finished 13th in the country. So when many fans look back on Stafford’s time in Athens, they regret he failed to win a national championship.

That’s why this season will define Murray. The numbers are going to be there. He’s going to be at the top of almost every record for a quarterback in Georgia’s history. But the wins and losses in a season of high expectations might be the difference in how fans think back on his days as the starting quarterback.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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