In response to an ESPN blog post that named Aaron Murray the SEC's franchise player, Andy Hutchins at Alligator Army questioned whether that was a good pick. Both the original post and Hutchins mention Marcus Lattimore, Trent Richardson, and Dont'a Hightower as other players worthy of consideration.
I'm not sure yet if I'm ready to name my SEC franchise player, though all those guys are good picks. What I can offer is some evidence backing up the hype that is beginning to build behind Murray for 2011.
First of all, I mentioned last October that Murray had a chance at registering the best passing efficiency score of Mark Richt's entire tenure at UGA. As it turns out, he came through on that potential. Here are the top five passing efficiency marks for the Richt era at Georgia:
Murray's not in bad company there, especially because Georgia was the conference's second-worst rushing team (adjusted for sacks) last season. Murray was doing that work without getting a whole lot of help from the running game.
It also looks pretty good given that he was only a freshman and was without his top receiver for a quarter of the season. Without A.J. Green in Georgia's first four games, he still posted a 143.18 passing efficiency. With Green it shot up to 159.49, and that includes the Liberty Bowl stinker where Murray posted only an 88.51.
In fact, the bowl game was the only time all season when Murray posted worse than a 130 passing efficiency mark. The only other SEC starter to avoid going below that line more than once was Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, though Greg McElroy and Ryan Mallett only dipped under it twice. Murray wasn't just good, but he was consistently good through the season.
As for 2011, it won't be easy to replace Green and Kris Durham, UGA's top two leading receivers from 2010. That said, Tavarres King, Orson Charles, Marlon Brown, and Aron White aren't a bad set of targets. Plus, bulldog puppy-toting freshman Isaiah Crowell will have a chance to come in and be the impact running back that Georgia has lacked since Knowshon Moreno left.
Again, I don't know if I'm ready to pull the trigger on naming Murray the franchise player for the whole conference. However, i would not hesitate in putting him at the top of the quarterback rankings for 2011.