World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party Preview: Is Aaron Murray's Legacy on the Line?

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Aaron Murray has been one of the SEC's best quarterbacks over the last two years. He has one last chance to prove it

Maybe Aaron Murray never really had the chance to match up to the expectations that were placed upon him almost from the time he starting taking snaps for the Georgia Bulldogs. By halfway through his freshman season, he was already being compared to Matthew Stafford even on this blog -- and we were hardly the only ones doing it -- just a few months after Stafford became the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft.

In some ways, the comparisons were eminently fair. In terms of just Aaron Murray's performance, he might actually be better than Matthew Stafford, whose career passer efficiency rating at Georgia was 133.30. Aaron Murray's so far is more than 20 points higher than that (154.02). Both his 2010 season and his 2012 season to this point have been better in terms of passing efficiency than Matthew Stafford's senior season in 2008.

But fairly or not -- and I'm one of those who tends to think not -- we remember quarterbacks for more than their individual accomplishments. How many times have you heard that Dan Marino was a great quarterback -- but, remember he never won a Super Bowl? And despite never getting an SEC Championship or an SEC East title, Matthew Stafford led the Bulldogs to a 27-7 record in games he started, a win in the 2008 Sugar Bowl and two other postseason victories. Oh, and Stafford beat Florida for only the second time in Mark Richt's tenure in 2007.

Murray's record on that count has been mixed. He is 22-12 in his three seasons at Georgia having started the same number of games as Stafford. He has never won a bowl game of any sort. And while the Dawgs won the SEC East in 2011, the team got a rap for defeating all the bad teams it faced and losing to the good teams. On the other hand, Murray defeated Florida for only the third time in Mark Richt's tenure last year.

Which is why this game is so intriguing from the standpoint of what it means for Aaron Murray's legacy should he decide to go pro after this year. (Murray is a redshirt junior this year and really has very little to prove to the scouts; if he stays on for the 2013 season, it will likely be for team accomplishments or because he likes the college lifestyle.)

If Murray defeats Florida this year, it will be the first time the Dawgs have won back-to-back installments of the Worlds Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in nearly 25 years. (The last was 1988-89.) And it would all but lock up the second consecutive SEC East title for Georgia. As the last major obstacle for the Bulldogs, it would likely mean a 27-12 record with the SEC Championship Game and a bowl game giving him a shot at a 29-12 record. And that means a chance at the first conference title at Georgia since 2005 and the first national championship since 1980.

That's a lot of speculation and projection based on one game, of course. But the stakes are really that high for Georgia and for Murray. If Murray loses this game, his career record after the regular season is still likely to be about 26-13. Florida will almost certainly represent the SEC East in the conference championship bout, and Murray will clock in with a chance at his first postseason victory and a 27-13 record.

But think about that difference for a minute. Lose, and Murray would continue to face the skeptical claim: "Yeah, but when he faced a really good team, he never could quite come up with the win." (The 2011 Florida squad was far from a quality football team.) His signature win would be -- what? -- a four-point victory against that 7-6 Florida team? A win in this year's Capital One or Outback Bowl?

Win out -- which is no easy task -- but win out after a win against Florida, and Murray would go down as the quarterback that called the signals for Mark Richt's greatest team and led long-suffering Georgia fans back to the heights their program could reach. When you win a national championship and an SEC title, the charge that you couldn't beat the big teams is pretty much destroyed. He might just be remembered as the greatest quarterback in the Mark Richt Era, though David Greene would likely beg to differ.

Aaron Murray is a great quarterback and deserves to be remembered as such. But the reality of the way we talk about football is that there's only one sure way for him to be acknowledged as a great quarterback, and that's to win on Saturday.

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