NCF Nation: Danny Wuerffel
ATHENS, Ga. -- In some ways, Arthur Lynch believes that Aaron Murray fits the quarterback stereotype perfectly. In others, Georgia's senior tight end says that Murray could not be further from what one might expect from a record-setting, four-year starter at one of the nation's most prominent football programs.
“So no, he's never given that vibe, which is a testament to him because he could easily be that guy and people would probably like him more for it because it's, 'Ah, that's what he's supposed to act like.' But the fact that he doesn't fit that mold is probably what people get weirded out about. They're probably like, 'There's got to be something behind the curtain.'”
Nope. Murray's generally affable demeanor is no facade -- which might be part of his perception problem nationally and even within his own conference.
He's not a flashy player, throwing up “Get Money” hand signals after a touchdown like Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. He hasn't won BCS titles like Alabama's AJ McCarron. Yet when the SEC's coaches released their preseason all-conference list, some college football observers were surprised to see Murray as the first-team quarterback.
Maybe that was a career achievement award from the league's coaches, as Murray's team-first attitude and legendary work ethic have helped him become the most prolific passer in the league's history.
“Everything he's done, he's earned it. It wasn't just off God-given talent or this crazy arm or anything like that. It's that he's worked for it, he's earned it,” said receiver Rhett McGowan, Murray's fellow fifth-year senior.
Murray has already broken ex-Bulldog David Greene's SEC record for career passing yards (Murray now has 12,029) and surpassed former Florida great Tim Tebow's career mark for total offense (Murray's at 12,327 yards) with a completion to Lynch in the Bulldogs' last game against Vanderbilt.
Entering Saturday's game against Florida, Murray is two touchdown passes behind ex-Gator Danny Wuerffel's SEC record of 114 touchdown passes, and he's still on pace to threaten ex-Gator Chris Leak's league record of 895 completions (Murray has 835) and former Kentucky quarterback Jared Lorenzen's mark of 1,514 pass attempts (Murray has 1,355).
Not that he has much time to focus on the record book these days. Coming off two straight losses, Murray's Georgia team (4-3, 3-2 SEC) needs a win on Saturday to have any hope in the SEC East race -- and he has been working overtime with an injury-depleted receiving corps in hopes of giving his offense a chance against a stout Florida defense.
“I guess when I'm old and want to brag, I can,” Murray said of the records. “But right now it's all about the team. It's all about getting this win. I guess I can talk about this later in life when I'm done playing and all, when I look back.”
Murray was on a short list of Heisman contenders just a few weeks ago, when Georgia was coming off wins against top-10 teams South Carolina and LSU and still had hopes of claiming a BCS championship berth. That was Murray's stated goal all along in returning for his senior season, and it appeared to be a reasonable possibility before many of his most valuable skill players fell victim to long-term or season-ending injuries.
The Bulldogs' once-explosive offense struggled without Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall in the backfield and Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Michael Bennett at receiver, and the losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt in those players' absence sunk the Bulldogs' BCS hopes. But Murray said he doesn't regret his decision to put off his NFL dreams for one more season.
“I'm still playing football. I'm still out there with my buddies having fun, competing,” Murray said. “Obviously I came back to try to give ourselves a chance to win a championship, but it didn't happen. So what? Let's move on. Let's continue working hard and having fun, and that's what I'm doing.”
That typifies the attitude Murray has displayed since he arrived at Georgia in 2009, with his relentless behind-the-scenes work propelling him through one of the most statistically impressive careers in SEC history, even if it might not result in the recognition that goes to quarterbacks on championship teams or those with a flashier highlight reel.
A BCS crown will not complete Murray's legacy at Georgia, but he will leave a significant void nonetheless. To gain some insight, consider an observation that Bulldogs coach Mark Richt made last Friday at the end of the Bulldogs' open week, when most coaches and players had already started making the most of a rare off weekend.
“It was maybe close to noontime, maybe just after noontime, and he and Faton [Bauta, one of Georgia's backup quarterbacks] are out there doing footwork and drill work and throwing the ball,” Richt recalled. “I went over the rail and I said, 'Get out of here. Just relax.' They were like, 'There's no days off, Coach. There's no days off.' [I said], 'All right, if that's what you want.'
“But that's how he is. He's wired that way. Every single day he wants to try to find a way to get better, and he's not feeling sorry for himself or anything like that. I think he's still very happy that he's here with us and wants to finish strong.”
2. Record watch in Nashville: In Saturday's Georgia-Vanderbilt game, a handful of SEC career records could fall. With 112 career touchdown passes, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is just two behind Danny Wuerffel's SEC career record. And with 12,203 career yards of total offense, Murray needs 29 yards to match Tim Tebow's SEC mark. On the other sideline, Vandy's Jordan Matthews needs 97 receiving yards to match Terrence Edwards' SEC career record of 3,093 yards. Matthews had 119 receiving yards against the Bulldogs last season.
3. Gators running game: With the news this week that running back Matt Jones became the seventh Florida player to suffer a season-ending injury, the Gators' running game is now largely in the hands of Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Brown has been solid enough thus far, rushing for a team-high 340 yards. But Taylor is the guy many Gators fans are excited about. The son of UF great Fred Taylor, Kelvin Taylor has rushed 16 times for 98 yards (6.1 per carry), including 10 carries for 52 yards in last week's slugfest against LSU. Missouri's run defense ranks third in the SEC at 126.2 YPG, but Georgia freshmen J.J. Green and Brendan Douglas ran for 157 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry against the Tigers' last week. The Gators probably need Brown and Taylor to be similarly productive in order to hang with the Tigers' prolific offense.
4. Marshall back for Auburn: After sitting out last week's blowout win against Western Carolina with a knee injury, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall returns to the lineup this week against Texas A&M. Marshall rushed for 140 yards -- the most by an SEC quarterback this season -- in his last game, the Tigers' 30-22 win on Oct. 5 against then-No. 24 Ole Miss. He led the resurgent Tigers to a 4-1 record before taking a seat last week while true freshman Jeremy Johnson played for the first time -- and won SEC Freshman of the Week honors -- against the overmatched Catamounts.
5. Can Georgia recover? With half a dozen starters sidelined last week against Missouri, Georgia lost its first home game since September 2011. Now the Bulldogs limp to Vanderbilt, where they have struggled in two of their last three visits before earning narrow wins. UGA hopes to reach next week's open date with its SEC East hopes still intact. All-SEC tailback Todd Gurley likely still won't play this week, so the Bulldogs' offense must hope Murray, freshman tailbacks Green and Douglas and their crew of replacement wideouts can generate enough offense to outscore the slumping Commodores.
6. Vols back from open date: The last time we saw Tennessee, it came within an eyelash of upsetting then-No. 6 Georgia in overtime. First-year coach Butch Jones' team took last weekend off and now has another enormous test on its hands: a visit from No. 11 South Carolina, which finally seems to be hitting its stride after some early struggles. Volunteers fans are optimistic about the new coaching staff, but their team hasn't beaten a ranked opponent in its last 19 tries. Their next four opponents are all ranked in this week's AP Top 25.
8. Maintaining historic run: The SEC set a record when Auburn jumped into this week's AP Top 25, giving the conference eight ranked teams. But that historic total might be short-lived. At No. 24, Auburn will likely drop out if it loses on Saturday at No. 7 Texas A&M. No. 15 Georgia and No. 22 Florida also can't afford a loss if they want to remain in the poll next week.
9. Repeat performance for Aggies? Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M offense gained 671 total yards, the most ever allowed by an Auburn defense, in last season's 63-21 win against the Tigers. Those 63 points also represented the third-most points ever scored against the Tigers. If that wasn't the last straw for then-coach Gene Chizik and his staff, it was awfully close. New coach Gus Malzahn has instilled new optimism on the Plains. The Tigers are a ranked team for the first time since November 2011, but the Aggies are still a two-touchdown favorite.
10. Rebs on the ropes: Ole Miss was one of the feel-good stories of the season just a few weeks ago, with the Rebels' Sept. 14 win helping them jump to No. 21 in the polls. But entering Saturday's home game against LSU, Hugh Freeze's club has lost three straight games: a shutout loss to top-ranked Alabama followed by narrow losses to Auburn and Texas A&M. LSU has won nine of the last 11 against the Rebels, although three of the last four have been decided by a touchdown or less. Keep your eyes on Oxford on Saturday night. This game often has a way of remaining surprisingly competitive.
Quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who won the 1996 Heisman Trophy and holds the SEC career record with 114 touchdown passes, was selected Tuesday as part of the 2013 College Football Hall of Fame class.
Kentucky end Steve Meilinger, nominated by the Veterans Committee, will also go into the College Football Hall of Fame as part of the 2013 class. Meilinger, who played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky, was a first-team All-American in 1952 and 1953.
Wuerffel finished his career with 10,875 passing yards (fifth all-time in the SEC) and led the Gators to the 1996 national championship. He was equally accomplished in the classroom and was chosen as the 1995 and 1996 Verizon Academic All-American of the Year. He also received the Draddy Trophy as a senior as the nation's premier scholar-athlete, becoming the only Heisman Trophy recipient in history to receive the Draddy Trophy.
During Wuerffel's four years as Florida's quarterback, the Gators won the SEC championship all four seasons from 1993-96. He threw 74 touchdown passes his last two seasons in Steve Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense, which revolutionized the SEC.
It's no secret that Spurrier can be hard on his quarterbacks. But good luck in trying to get the Head Ball Coach to say anything that's not glowing about Wuerffel, who's as good a guy as he was a passer in college.
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said it best in telling The Gainesville Sun's Robbie Andreu, "He is one of the best ever to put on a Gator uniform and will be always remembered as such. He will be remembered just as much, if not more, for the type of individual he is. He is truly a great person."
The most intriguing component in the whole move to a playoff remains the makeup of that committee.
Who's going to be on it? Better yet, who wants to be on it?
From an SEC perspective and a football perspective, I've come up with a few possible candidates. And, yes, I realize that just about every one of these would be perceived as having some kind of bias, which is going to be the problem in finding a panel that satisfies everybody.
They're listed in alphabetical order:
Bill Battle: The new Alabama athletic director was the head coach at Tennessee in the early 1970s and later founded Collegiate Licensing Company and built it into a money-making empire.
Charles Davis: A former defensive back at Tennessee, Davis has carved out an impressive broadcasting career at several different networks and provides analysis for both college football and the NFL.
Vince Dooley: A true legend in SEC coaching circles, Dooley is about as intertwined with SEC football as it gets. He played at Auburn and was a Hall of Fame coach at Georgia.
Jeremy Foley: He's easily the SEC athletic director with the most clout nationally, although he's already said he wouldn't be interesting in serving on the committee.
Phillip Fulmer: Granted, the Alabama fans wouldn't be thrilled, but Fulmer won 98 SEC games, tied for the fifth most in history, and he's available.
Bo Jackson: Still very involved at his alma mater, Auburn, Bo knows football as well as he played it ... and just about every other sport imaginable.
Bobby Johnson: Now retired and living in Charleston, S.C., the former Vanderbilt coach is as sharp and respected as they come and would be a terrific choice.
Roy Kramer: He might be the father of the BCS, but few men have helped to shape college football and the SEC in a positive way more so than Kramer, who's retired and living in East Tennessee.
Archie Manning: One of the SEC's greatest players, Manning still keeps close taps on college football in between watching his two famous sons play in the NFL.
Joe Pendry: A veteran of both the college and pro game, Pendry is now retired from coaching after helping to build some powerhouse offensive lines at Alabama.
Bill Polian: He's currently doing NFL analysis for ESPN, but few people anywhere know the game inside and out any better than Polian, one of the NFL's top executives for a long time.
Gene Stallings: He has ties to both Alabama and Texas A&M and played under the legendary Bear Bryant. Stallings knows what championship teams look like.
Sterling Sharpe: The former South Carolina and Pro Bowl receiver for the Packers is doing a little radio now in addition to his NFL Network duties. He would offer some keen insight in the selection of the teams.
Danny Wuerffel: The former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida would be an excellent choice. He was as smart as he was good and is one of the best people you're ever going to meet. He's also doing better after battling some health problems.
But like any other ranking in the SEC, coming up with the top five individual seasons is one tough chore.
1. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn, 2010: Granted, it was only one season. But what a season it was on the Plains for Newton and the Tigers. Newton, who came over from junior college after starting his career at Florida, guided Auburn to a 14-0 record and the school's first national championship in 53 years. He was unstoppable as a runner and equally dynamic as a passer, accounting for 51 touchdowns. The runaway winner of the 2010 Heisman Trophy, Newton was second nationally in passing efficiency (182.05) and led all SEC players in rushing with 1,473 yards. In short, it was about as close as it gets to being a perfect season.
2. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida, 2007: Tebow's sophomore season was his best statistically, even though the Gators didn't win a national title that year. He became the first quarterback in FBS history to pass for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns in the same season. Tebow finished with 32 passing touchdowns and 23 rushing touchdowns in becoming the first sophomore in history to win the Heisman Trophy. Not known for his passing prowess, Tebow threw for 3,286 yards and only six interceptions that season. He also rushed for 895 yards and was the Gators' go-to guy any time they got near the goal line.
4. Derrick Thomas, OLB, Alabama, 1988: When you start talking about pure stats and gaudy numbers, it's hard to top what Thomas accomplished during the 1988 season. He set an SEC record with 39 tackles for loss, including an NCAA record 27 sacks. Thomas, who died in 2000, also had an incredible 45 quarterback hurries that season. He completely took over the Penn State game with three sacks and a safety, and to this day he remains the standard for rushing the passer in this league. Former Alabama coach Bill Curry called him the "best football player I ever coached."
5. Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida, 1996: Never fully satisfied with the way his quarterbacks perform, Steve Spurrier came close in 1996. Wuerffel was brilliant that season in leading the Gators to a national championship. He finished with 3,625 passing yards and 39 touchdown passes on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy. His accuracy and ability to put the ball in places his receivers could turn short gains into touchdowns made him one of the Head Ball Coach's favorites. "Danny Wonderful" didn't have an exceptionally strong arm but always knew where to go with the football.
Several of your nominations were already on my list, and there were several that I hadn’t thought about.
The “Simply Saturday” series that had been running on ESPN.com wrapped up Friday with its top 10 players of all-time who were great college players, but not necessarily great NFL players. Ohio State’s Archie Griffin was No. 1.
Combining everyone’s efforts, I’ve come up with an SEC version of the top 10. One caveat is that these are guys I actually saw play. I know I’m dating myself, but that takes us back to the mid-1970s.
The players are listed alphabetically:
Reidel Anthony, WR, Florida (1994-96): He caught 18 of Danny Wuerffel’s 39 touchdown passes during the Gators’ 1996 national championship season, but was out of the NFL after only five seasons.
Tim Couch, QB, Kentucky (1996-98): Couch threw 73 touchdown passes during the 1997 and 1998 seasons and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. He lasted just five seasons in the NFL.
Eric Curry, DE, Alabama (1990-92): The tandem of Curry and John Copeland coming off the edge during that 1992 national championship season was as good you’re going to find in college football.
Major Ogilvie, RB, Alabama (1977-80): I can still hear ABC’s Keith Jackson calling Ogilvie’s name. He was a vintage Bear Bryant player in that wishbone offense and always came through in the big games. Ogilvie carried the ball just 299 times during his career, but scored 25 rushing touchdowns.
David Palmer, WR, Alabama (1991-93): The “Deuce” was one of those players I genuinely expected to score every time he touched the ball. He was that elusive and did a little bit of everything for the Crimson Tide ... and did it well.
David Pollack, DE, Georgia (2001-04): A neck injury prematurely ended Pollack’s NFL career, but he was a terror for opposing quarterbacks in college. Only two players in Georgia history were three-time, first-team All-Americans -- Herschel Walker and Pollack.
Tracy Rocker, DT, Auburn (1985-88): Rocker won both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award during the 1988 season and was the model in those years for what you were looking for in an interior defensive lineman.
Chuck Webb, RB, Tennessee (1989-90): Webb remains the best and most dynamic running back I’ve ever seen play for the Vols. Had he not blown out his knee at the start of the 1990 season, he would have been a star at the NFL level.
Scott Woerner, DB, Georgia (1977-80): He was a great kickoff and punt returner and also finished his career with 13 interceptions. Woerner was one of the rocks on that 1980 national championship team. He only played in 17 NFL games and spent much of his short pro career in the USFL.
Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida (1993-96): The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner was amazingly accurate, and more importantly, always know where to go with the ball. As far as Steve Spurrier is concerned, Wuerffel will always be the measuring stick.
Obviously, there are countless other players who could have made this list.
Here’s a sampling of some others who were nominated:
- Charles Alexander, RB, LSU
- Shawn Andrews, OT, Arkansas
- Jay Barker, QB, Alabama
- Aundray Bruce, LB, Auburn
- Ed Chester, DL, Florida
- Rohan Davey, QB, LSU
- Robert Edwards, RB, Georgia
- Brent Fullwood, RB, Auburn
- David Greene, QB, Georgia
- Tommy Hodson, QB, LSU
- Kenny Irons, RB, Auburn
- Matt Jones, QB, Arkansas
- Keith McCants, LB, Alabama
- Dewayne Robertson, DT, Kentucky
- JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU
- Heath Shuler, QB, Tennessee
- Odell Thurman, LB, Georgia
- Troy Williamson, WR, South Carolina
- Tim Worley, RB, Georgia
- Eric Zeier, QB, Georgia
Bronze, life-sized statues of former quarterbacks Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Tim Tebow (2007) are standing outside The Swamp, ready and willing to pose for pictures with fans.
Naturally, Tebow's statue shows him running the ball. After all, he was the first player to score at least 20 touchdowns rushing and passing.
Well, we had to wait all of a year for a game that’s even bigger.
If you want to go back further, I’d say Bear Bryant’s last game in the 1982 Liberty Bowl would rate way up there, just seeing an icon coaching in his final game.
Here are some others that come to mind. Again, these are SEC games going in that you knew would be epic in some form or fashion, and/or games that ended up being memorable:
1. 2008 SEC championship game: Boy, the game for the ages didn’t disappoint. Both teams played excellent football for three quarters, and then Tim Tebow took over in the fourth to will the Gators to a 31-20 win, propelling them to their second national championship in the last three years. Alabama only had the football for six offensive plays in the final quarter.
2. 1992 SEC championship game: The inaugural SEC championship game was a classic, and it was only fitting that Alabama and Florida would be the participants. The game was played at Legion Field. Alabama’s Antonio Langham returned an interception 27 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes, keeping the Crimson Tide unbeaten in a thrilling 28-21 win. They went on to destroy Miami in the Sugar Bowl and win the national title.
3. 1994 SEC championship game: The two heavyweights met for the third straight year in the title game, and Florida held on for a 24-23 win. Danny Wuerffel engineered an 80-yard touchdown drive to win it for the Gators, who intercepted an Alabama pass on the final drive to seal their second straight SEC title. It was the first SEC championship game played in the Georgia Dome. Alabama came into the game unbeaten and ranked third nationally.
4. 1998 Tennessee 28, Arkansas 24: The Hogs were on the doorstep of going to 9-0 in Houston Nutt’s first season in Fayetteville, but Arkansas quarterback Clint Storner stumbled and fumbled in the final minutes, paving the way for the Vols to miraculously escape and go on to win their first national title in 47 years.
5. 2006 Florida 17, South Carolina 16: Steve Spurrier made his first trip back to the Swamp as an opposing coach and had the Gators beat. But Jarvis Moss blocked a field goal on the final play of the game, and Florida survived after losing to Spurrier and the Gamecocks the year before in Columbia. The Gators went on to win their first national championship under Urban Meyer.
6. 2001 Tennessee 34, Florida 32: The game was moved to December because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Florida was No. 2 and Tennessee No. 5. The Vols, who were 18-point underdogs, got 226 rushing yards from Travis Stephens and had to survive a two-point conversion pass attempt by Rex Grossman in the final minute to hold on.
7. 2001 SEC championship game: Nick Saban won his first SEC title, as LSU overcame injuries to its starting quarterback and starting running back to upset No. 2 Tennessee 31-20. The Vols were poised to play in the Rose Bowl for the national championship had they won.
8. 1994 Auburn 23, Georgia 23: Auburn was ranked No. 3 nationally and had won 20 straight games, but an unranked Georgia team in Ray Goff’s next to last year came into Jordan-Hare Stadium and played the Tigers to a stunning tie.
9. 1997 Florida 33, Tennessee 20: Peyton Manning got one final shot at the Gators, but the result was a familiar one for Tennessee fans. The No. 2 Gators pulled away from the No. 4 Vols in the Swamp thanks in large part to Tony George’s interception of a Manning pass and 89-yard return for a touchdown.
10. 2003 Arkansas 71, Kentucky 63: The longest game in NCAA history. The Hogs prevailed in the seventh overtime when DeCori Birmingham scored on a 25-yard touchdown run. They then stopped the Wildcats on fourth down. The game lasted nearly five hours.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
A glance at what others are saying and writing about SEC football:
- Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel are both former Heisman Trophy winners at Florida, but they're bound by their Christian faith.
- Thanks to Charles Goldberg of The Birmingham News, here's some video of Bo Jackson's commencement speech at Auburn last Saturday.
- Tim Tucker of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has some leftovers from Georgia coach Mark Richt's speaking engagement in Columbus, Ga., last week.
- There were no real surprises on Arkansas' post-spring depth chart, Nate Allen of The Northwest Arkansas Times writes.
- Former Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson is just hoping for a chance with the Atlanta Falcons.
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Now that he's back for another season, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is obviously eyeing another BCS national championship and perhaps another Heisman Trophy.
Not only does he have a chance to become the second two-time winner of the Heisman (joining former Ohio State great Archie Griffin), but he also can become the third player in history to win a Heisman and three national titles, joining John Lujack and Leon Hart of Notre Dame from the 1940s.
Statistically, though, Tebow now has an opportunity to do things in the SEC that nobody really thought were possible before he showed up in Gainesville.
Consider some of these numbers that our ESPN Research department came up with: If Tebow stays healthy next season, he should finish his career with the most rushing touchdowns in SEC history. He currently has 43, while the record-holder, Georgia's Herschel Walker, has 49. It should be noted that Walker amassed his total in three seasons.
But in addition to possibly setting the SEC record for most touchdown runs, Tebow has a chance to move into second place in the SEC in career touchdown passes. He currently has 67 and is 22 behind Tennessee's Peyton Manning, who threw 89 during his career. The SEC record for most touchdown passes in a career is out of Tebow's reach. Florida's Danny Wuerffel threw a staggering 114 from 1993-96.
Anyway, think about that for a minute. Tebow has a chance to finish his career first in the SEC in touchdown runs and second in touchdown passes.
Count me as one of those who thought I'd never see a player come close to doing that in this conference ... or any conference, for that matter.