There’s a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to replace at Auburn, yet another suspension for the starting quarterback at South Carolina and spring quarterback competitions at Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas.
The most stability at the position in the Southeastern Conference just might be found on a team that is coming off a 6-7 season with a player with one season under his belt.
Georgia redshirt sophomore Aaron Murray is hoping to build on a season in which he threw for the second-most yards ever by an SEC freshman (3,049), was one touchdown away from Matthew Stafford’s single-season program record of 25 and finished 14th in the nation in passing efficiency.
But Murray isn’t taking for granted his ability to repeat those numbers this fall.
“Not at all,” Murray said. “This is the SEC. You’re playing against tough guys every year and you’ve got to come out with that hunger and determination. You’ve got to stay focused. … I’m not satisfied until we win a national championship.”
He won’t have the luxury of throwing to A.J. Green, who likely will be the first receiver taken in the NFL draft later this month. Georgia started 1-3 last season during Green’s four-game NCAA suspension.
Murray says he’s focused this spring on improving his footwork and getting into his progressions faster when he drops back to throw.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who coaches the quarterbacks, is looking for more consistency.
“We were kind of streaky last year,” Bobo said. “We’d be hot for a quarter and cold for a quarter. A lot of that would be the start of the game and the end of the game. We want to focus on fundamentals and be more consistent.”
Murray went 0-for-5 passing in the first quarter in a loss to Florida before throwing for 123 yards and a touchdown in the second. In a loss at Colorado, Murray went 2-for-5 for 17 yards in the first quarter, but went 8 of 13 for 91 yards and a pair of touchdown passes in the second quarter.
“It usually starts off slow, in the second and third quarter I get really hot, and at the end of the game, I start cooling off a little bit,” Murray said. “I’ve just got to stay focused throughout the game and not mentally lose it at times.”
In losses to Mississippi State, Auburn and Central Florida, Murray started out on fire in the opening quarter and then cooled.
“Sometimes we’ve got to bail him out and sometimes he’s got to bail us out,” receiver Tavarres King said. “That’s something that’s going to come with a lot of repetition and a lot of practice.”
Murray completed 6 of 8 passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns in the opening quarter against Auburn, but was 1 of 5 for 17 yards in the second.
Against UCF in the Liberty Bowl, Murray completed 7 of 8 passes for 69 yards in the first, but threw a pair of second-quarter interceptions and went 3 of 13 for 46 yards in the fourth quarter.
“I think he’ll be a more consistently accurate passer,” coach Mark Richt said. “His touchdown-to-interception ratio was great, but now he’ll have more confidence to make certain throws that maybe he wasn’t sure of in the past. He erred on the side of being careful, which I think was good.
“Now, I think he has a better idea of what he’s capable of doing.”
Murray is the SEC’s top returner in passing efficiency after the departures of Auburn’s Cam Newton, Alabama’s Greg McElroy and Arkansas’ Ryan Mallett.
There is uncertainty elsewhere in the Eastern Division.
John Brantley has a new pro-style offense at Florida and Stephen Garcia will miss team activities at least through the end of the semester after his fifth suspension as a Gamecock on Wednesday.
Murray threw three times as many touchdowns as interceptions last season, but all that means little with a sub-.500 record.
“Quarterbacks aren’t determined by touchdowns and interceptions,” Murray said. “They’re determined by the greatness of them, by how many championships they win. You look at guys like Dan Marino compared to Tom Brady. (Marino’s) one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but no rings. All that matters is how many championships you’ve got, and that’s all I really care about.”