Published Friday, November 23, 2012
BY PAUL NEWBERRY
AP SPORTS WRITER
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) – Aaron Murray has already received some lofty praise, should he decide to enter the NFL draft.
That discussion will have to wait, however.
The junior quarterback still has plenty of work to do for No. 3 Georgia.
Murray has guided the Bulldogs (10-1) to the brink of playing for a national championship. If they can beat rival Georgia Tech on Saturday and No. 2 Alabama the following week in the Southeastern Conference title game, then it's on to Miami for a shot at No. 1.
When it comes to the big decision he'll be facing after the season, Murray insists he hasn't given it much thought. But former NFL coach Tony Dungy stirred up plenty of speculation this week when he wrote on Twitter that he would take Murray with the top pick in the draft if he gives up his senior season.
"He's an unbelievable guy, an unbelievable coach," Murray said. "It was definitely cool to hear that."
Dungy's appraisal is at odds with most draft projections, and it may be influenced by friendship (his son played on the same high school team with Murray in Tampa). Despite some lofty statistics, Murray's status with many scouts is hurt by his height - generously listed at 6-foot-1 - and a belief he doesn't have the size needed to be a classic drop-back passer.
In the end, questions about his height may persuade Murray to go ahead and turn pro. It's not like he's suddenly going to grow 2 of 3 inches if he stays with the Bulldogs for another year.
"Oh my God, I wish I could find a way to do that," he joked. "If I could just be my dad's height, that would be fine. He's like 6-2 and a half. Why can't I just grow like that? But I got my mom's height. I'm not happy about that."
Murray is pleased with his college career, leading a Georgia renaissance from the first losing record of the Mark Richt era to SEC East titles in back-to-back years. This season, after shaking off the sting of a 28-point loss at South Carolina, the Bulldogs positioned themselves not only for their first conference title since 2005, but a shot at the national championship. When Oregon and Kansas State were knocked off last weekend, only three teams - No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Alabama and Georgia - still had control of their fate.
Mindful of what happened to the Ducks and K-State, the Bulldogs insist they're not looking past Georgia Tech (6-5), a team that fired its defensive coordinator at midseason and has only one victory in this series over the last 11 years.
"I don't know how you can overlook Georgia Tech," Murray said. "This is a very hated rivalry. When you get on the field, there's going to be a lot of trash talking. It's fun though. Our guys definitely enjoy this game. It just means so much to this team, this university, everyone in Georgia. I know I'm pumped up and excited. When I woke up Monday, I was like, `It's Tech week.' I'm going to be ready to go. I know our team will be, too."
The high-scoring Yellow Jackets would love nothing more than to ruin Georgia's grand plans.
It's already been a good week at Georgia Tech, which, despite its ordinary record, automatically claimed a spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game after Miami pulled out of postseason play over alleged NCAA violations.
But the title game against No. 10 Florida State is a week away.
The Yellow Jackets are focused solely on the Bulldogs.
"We're not looking forward," running back Robert Godhigh said. "It's good that we made the ACC championship, but this is a big game for us, too, a rivalry with our biggest rival. The other game, the chance to go to the Orange Bowl, beating Georgia would just make that experience even better."
Georgia Tech has won four out of five since dumping defense coordinator Al Groh at midseason. The Yellow Jackets haven't undergone a radical overhaul, but they've simplified their 3-4 scheme and seem to be playing with more speed and reckless abandon.
Nevertheless, they'll have a hard time slowing Murray and the potent Georgia offense, which has two of the nation's top freshman backs (Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall) and a long list of potential receivers, even after season-ending injuries to Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown.
"We've got some momentum here in the last half of the year," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "Certainly we'll have to play our best game of the year to have a chance."
Georgia's defense has definitely improved, a turnaround that began after safety Shawn Williams called out his teammates, accusing them of playing soft when the Bulldogs surrendered at least 20 points in six of their first seven games. A couple of players were ticked off at Williams, believing he singled them out unfairly, but there's no doubt the defense has played more like everyone expected since the outburst.
Richt, who initially said he would've preferred Williams to state his case in private rather than through the media, now speaks of the tirade as a turning point of the season. The Bulldogs stifled then-unbeaten Florida 17-9 and have given up just 33 points in their last four games.
"We didn't start out playing as great as we hoped to, especially on the defensive side of the ball," the coach said. "But we got that thing turned around when Shawn showed some leadership. I think that was the catalyst for the defense to pick it up. We've been playing pretty well ever since."
Murray has done his part, too. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and needs just 14 yards to become the first quarterback in SEC history to throw for more than 3,000 in three consecutive years. He's also a winner in the classroom, having already moved on to graduate school after earning his degree in psychology.
But, even if Georgia wins the national championship, Murray won't concede he'll be playing in the NFL next season.
"How about multiple championships?" he said. "I would like to get as many as I can."
AP Sports Writer Charles Odum in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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