Stats & Info: Aaron Murray

Elite QBs living up to top billing

October, 6, 2013

AP Photo/Rod AydelotteBaylor’s Bryce Petty is one of many QBs who lived up to high expectations in Week 6.
Below are some storylines from Week 6 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Top QBs continue success on Saturday

The top four players in Total QBR entering the day on Saturday lived up to expectations. All four players posted a Total QBR of at least 90 while leading their teams to dominant victories.

Below is a breakdown of these top performances:

• Bryce Petty posted a 97.1 Total QBR in Baylor’s 73-42 win over West Virginia, his fourth straight game with a Total QBR of at least 93. Petty has thrown for at least 300 yards, two touchdowns and averaged 13 yards per attempt in every game this season.

• Marcus Mariota was responsible for a career-high seven touchdowns as he led the Ducks to a 57-16 victory against Colorado. Mariota has posted a Total QBR of 90 or more in four of five games this season.

• Teddy Bridgewater posted his fifth straight game with a Total QBR of 80 or higher in Louisville’s 30-7 win over Temple. Bridgewater was 15-of-17 for 228 yards in the first half and did not have a Total QBR lower than 94 after the Cardinals’ first drive.

• Jameis Winston threw for a career-high 393 yards and five touchdowns against Maryland. Winston had seven completions of 20 yards or longer, including two 21-yard touchdown passes. He now has 27 completions of at least 20 yards, fifth most in the FBS.

Other Notable QBs:

• AJ McCarron posted a 97.0 Total QBR in fewer than two quarters against Georgia State. McCarron completed 15-of-16 passes, including his first 12 attempts. Overall, 12 of his 16 attempts (75%) went for a first down or touchdown, the highest percentage by a quarterback in a game this season.

• Tajh Boyd had a season-high 94.0 Total QBR in Clemson’s 49-14 win over Syracuse. Boyd threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns in the first half, the most yards by an ACC player in the last 10 seasons. Despite taking three sacks, Boyd posted a 96.5 Total QBR in the first half.

• Zach Mettenberger completed 86% of his passes and posted a 92.1 Total QBR in LSU’s 59-26 win against Mississippi State. Mettenberger now has a 88.6 Total QBR through six games in 2013 after having a 27.2 Total QBR through his first six games of last season.

• Aaron Murray had an 84.7 Total QBR in Georgia’s come-from-behind victory over Tennessee. Murray was 5-of-9 with a touchdown on Georgia’s final drive. Murray has a 96.5 Total QBR when trailing this season, highest in the FBS (min 20 action plays).

Georgia wins back-and-forth affair with LSU

September, 29, 2013
Below are some storylines from Week 5 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Georgia outduels LSU in back-and-forth game
No. 9 Georgia’s three-point win over No. 6 LSU featured five ties and four lead changes, including three lead changes in the final 8:09 of the game.

There were plenty of plays that had a significant impact on either team’s probability of winning the game. In fact, there were 10 plays that changed each team’s chance of winning by at least 10 percentage points in either direction.

The biggest play of the game was Aaron Murray’s 25-yard pass to Justin Scott-Wesley in the fourth quarter to take the lead for good. That pass increased Georgia’s win probability from 48.8 percent to 75.3 percent, or by 26.5 percentage points.

Aaron Murray plays big against top opponent
Aaron Murray (82.6 Total QBR) threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns in Georgia’s win. This season, Murray and the Bulldogs have won two of three games against Top-15 opponents, and Murray has posted a 80.7 Total QBR in those games.

In his first three seasons at Georgia, Murray won one of eight games against Top-15 foes and posted a QBR below 20 in four of those games.

The biggest differences have been turnovers and sacks. In those first eight games, Murray had 12 turnovers, including 10 interceptions, and took 26 sacks.

In the three games against Top-15 opponents in 2013, Murray has three turnovers and has taken three sacks, and he was not sacked on Saturday against LSU.

Welcome back Braxton Miller
Braxton Miller threw for 198 yards and matched a career-high with four passing touchdowns against Wisconsin.

After posting a 68.9 Total QBR against the Badgers, Miller has raised his Total QBR from 67.7 in 2012 to 73.2 in 2013.

The biggest difference has been his accuracy. This season, Miller has completed 64.9 percent of his passes and has been off target (overthrown, underthrow or wide) on just seven pass attempts. Last season, Miller completed 58.3 percent of his passes and was off target on 17 percent of his throws.

Alabama defense back on track
It appears that Texas A&M’s 628 yards and 42 points against Alabama was more of an aberration than a sign of what is to come for Alabama’s defense. Alabama’s other three opponents have combined for 696 yards and 16 points in three games, including 205 yards and zero points for Ole Miss on Saturday at Alabama.

The Tide have a +20.9 defensive EPA against those three opponents, meaning its defense has contributed almost 21 points toward its margin of victory by controlling field position and forcing turnovers.

To put that into perspective, Alabama’s +20.9 defensive EPA in those three games would rank second in the FBS behind only Baylor (+29 def EPA) this season.

Murray, Georgia too much for LSU

September, 28, 2013

Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesAaron Murray and Georgia had a lot to celebrate about in the Bulldogs' 44-41 win over LSU Saturday.
If the South Carolina win three weeks ago didn’t quiet the critics who said Aaron Murray couldn’t win big games they’re certainly silent now.

Led by another big performance from Murray, the ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs rallied to beat sixth-ranked LSU Tigers in a 44-41 thriller Saturday. It was Georgia’s second win in three tries against a Top-10 team this season (No. 6 South Carolina on September 7).

This is the first time in Georgia history it has defeated two AP-ranked teams in a season before October 1st. Georgia is the fifth team in the last 15 years to defeat two Top-10 teams prior to October, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The last, prior to Georgia, was Alabama in 2008.

Murray comes up big
After winning only one of his first seven games against Top-10 teams, Murray has now won two straight.

The senior QB had a hand in all five of Georgia’s touchdowns Saturday, throwing for four and adding another on the ground. His five TD responsible for ties his career high.

It was a big improvement over his 2011 performance against LSU, in which he completed only 16 of 40 passes for 163 yards with one TD and two interceptions.

The key for Murray Saturday was his accuracy down the field. He completed 7-of-11 passes thrown 15 yards or longer, including three touchdowns. It is the most completions (7) and touchdowns (3) LSU has allowed on such throws over the last 3 seasons. In 2011 against LSU, Murray was only 1-of-11 on throws 15+ yards downfield.

Murray now has eight TD passes in his last two games against Top-10 teams, matching his total for his first seven such games combined.

He also passed Eric Zeier, Peyton Manning and Chris Leak on the SEC career passing yardage list, now trailing only fellow Georgia QB David Greene by 99 yards.

Mettenberger’s homecoming
On the other side, LSU QB Zach Mettenberger didn’t disappoint in his Georgia homecoming. Mettenberger is from Watkinsville, GA (15 minute drive south of Athens) and originally enrolled at Georgia before being dismissed.

He threw for a career-high 372 yards and three TD, showing continued improvement from his junior season. After posting a 39.3 Total QBR last season, which ranked 98th out of 122 qualified FBS quarterbacks, Mettenberger has a 87.6 Total QBR this season (86.0 on Saturday). No FBS quarterback entered Saturday with a bigger increase in Total QBR from 2012 to 2013.

Rare defensive letdown for LSU
LSU allowed 44 points in defeat Saturday after going 63 straight games without allowing 40 points in a game. That was by far the longest active streak in FBS.

Entering Saturday, LSU was one of only eight FBS teams which hadn’t trailed this season but that ended with Georgia’s first TD.

Brett Smith most dominant QB in Week 4

September, 24, 2013
With only one ranked matchup, the Week 4 slate of underdogs did not provide much competition for the favorite. Top 25 teams were 18-0 against unranked opponents, and the average margin of victory in those games was over five touchdowns.

Four teams highlighted the day of dominant offensive performances. Ohio State, Louisville, Miami and Baylor each scored at least 70 points, the most in a single day since the BCS' inception in 1998. Three of those four teams had a win probability of at least 95 percent by the start of the second quarter, and all four were up by at least 38 points by halftime.

Which of these offensive performances was the most impressive? Which quarterback contributed most to his team’s offensive efficiency? With the help of ESPN’s new CFB metrics (see explanations here), ESPN Stats & Information will look back on Week 4 and look ahead to next weekend’s top 10 matchup between No. 6 LSU and No. 9 Georgia.

Best Individual Performances
Brett Smith (99.0 Total QBR) had a school-record 511 total yards in Wyoming’s 56-23 win over Air Force on Saturday. His biggest contribution came on the ground, as he ran for 138 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. As a result, Smith contributed more expected points from rushing (9.4) than any other quarterback in Week 4.

Terrel Hunt (98.6 Total QBR) posted the highest Total QBR by a Syracuse starter in the last 10 seasons in the Orange’s 52-17 win over Tulane. Hunt has a 98.9 Total QBR and has completed 76.7 percent of his passes this season, compared to a 20.9 Total QBR and 57.4 completion percentage for Syracuse’s starter from its first two games, Drew Allen.

Bryce Petty (98.5 Total QBR) of Baylor currently leads the nation in Total QBR this season (98.4). Against Louisiana-Monroe, Petty posted his third straight Total QBR of 93 or above. The only other player in the country with three straight games of 93-plus is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Tyler MurphyTyler Murphy (98.1 Total QBR) was called into action early in the first quarter when Florida QB Jeff Driskel broke his leg. Murphy posted a 98.1 Total QBR on 24 action plays, which was the highest Total QBR by a Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow had a 98.9 against Vanderbilt in 2008.

Explaining Murphy’s QBR: At first glance, Tyler Murphy had a fairly average statline; he completed 57 percent of his passes for 134 yards and a touchdown. However, Murphy also contributed 84 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground. He was nearly perfect on third downs, converting eight of his 12 third-down chances, including five first-down rushes of at least seven yards.

Best Team Performances
Offense –- Ohio State’s offense contributed 47 net points towards its 76-0 victory over Florida A&M. Although the Rattlers are not the most formidable opponent, Ohio State’s had the highest single-game offensive EPA this season and the fifth-highest single-game offensive EPA in the last three seasons. Efficiency is key; Ohio State scored a touchdown on 11 of its 13 drives on Saturday.

Defense –- Baylor is not typically known for its defense, but the Bears lead the country in defensive EPA this season. On Saturday, Baylor’s defense contributed a FBS-high 35.4 expected points towards its 63-point victory over Louisiana-Monroe (70-7) after forcing four turnovers, including two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the first quarter. Overall, Baylor has scored 73 points off turnovers this season, second in FBS behind Northwestern.

Special Teams – Iowa scored its most points since 2002 (59) against Western Michigan on Saturday, and 14 of those points were directly related to special teams. Junior returner Kevonte Martin-Manley returned two consecutive Western Michigan punts for touchdowns early in the second quarter. Iowa scored as many touchdowns on offense (4) as its defense and specials teams had combined on Saturday.

Looking ahead to Week 5
After a weak slate of games last weekend, Week 5 has four matchups of ranked opponents, including one matchup of top 10 teams. No. 6 LSU travels to No. 9 Georgia in a game that will match two of the most improved offenses in the country.

LSU ranks 16th in offensive EPA per game this season after ranking 68th last season. The biggest difference has been QB Zach Mettenberger, who has nearly tripled his Total QBR from last season.

His 49-point increase from last season to this season is the largest of any qualified quarterback in the nation.

Similarly, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray raised his Total QBR from 73.0 in 2012 to 84.3 in in 2013. His best game of the season came against South Carolina, a team that he was winless against until this season.

Murray will look to avenge his past meeting with LSU, a 42-10 loss in the 2011 SEC Championship game. In that game he threw two interceptions and posted his third-lowest Total QBR (17.3) of his career.

Murray gets elusive win vs. South Carolina

September, 7, 2013
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesGeorgia QB Aaron Murray (right) defeated South Carolina for the first time in four tries Saturday.
After losing his first three games against South Carolina, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray finally got that elusive win against the Gamecocks on Saturday.

Murray completed 17 of 23 attempts for 309 yards and four touchdowns in Georgia's 41-30 win, just one week after failing to throw for a score in Georgia’s loss to Clemson.

One of the major differences for Murray on Saturday compared to his prior three meetings against the Gamecocks was his efficiency on third down. Murray went 6-for-7 on third down pass attempts Saturday, including two touchdowns.

He averaged nearly 20 yards per attempt on third downs Saturday, 11 yards more than his career average entering the game.

The win against 6th-ranked South Carolina was Murray's second against a top-10 team. Entering the day, he was 1-6 career in games against top-10 teams with eight touchdowns to nine interceptions in those games.

Murray now has 99 career passing touchdowns, leaving him 15 shy of the SEC career record held by Florida’s Danny Wuerffel.

While Murray led the Bulldogs’ passing attack, Todd Gurley led the way on the ground for Georgia.

Gurley carried the ball 30 times for 134 yards and a touchdown. It was his 10th game with at least 100 rush yards and a rushing touchdown since the start of last season, and his second of the 2013 campaign.

Much of Gurley's attack came outside the tackles: he had 10 rushes for 68 yards outside the tackles against South Carolina, two more yards than he had rushing inside the tackles -- and on 10 fewer carries.

It was markedly different than last week, when only one of Gurley’s 12 carries went outside the tackles.

On the other sideline, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney recorded his first sack of the season in the loss.

Clowney's sack, the 22nd of his career, jumped him up a spot over Melvin Ingram for fourth on the school's career list. He's seven sacks shy of tying the school record, set by Eric Norwood (2006-09).

The loss was just South Carolina’s second (13-2) to an SEC East team since 2010, with the other coming to Florida last season.

Murray vs Clowney: A closer look

September, 6, 2013

Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesAaron Murray had a rough go of it on Saturday.
One of the nation’s most explosive offenses will face one of the best defenses when Georgia hosts South Carolina this Saturday (4:30 ET on ESPN). The winner will have the inside track to winning the SEC East and a possible BCS bowl berth.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray may be a Heisman contender but he has struggled in his career vs the Gamecocks. He is winless in three starts and his QBR of 44.8 against them is his worst vs any SEC East opponent.

Last season in Williams-Brice Stadium, Murray arguably had the worst game of his career, setting career lows in pass yards (109), completion percentage (36.0), and total QBR (8.4) in a 35-7 loss.

Murray also hopes to do something he’s rarely done in his career: beat a highly ranked team. He is just 1-8 in his career against top-15 teams after losing last week at Clemson.

However, Murray was successful stretching the field against the Tigers. He averaged 11.1 yards per attempt, including three passes that traveled more than 15 yards in the air.

South Carolina’s defense will need to prevent Murray from completing those long passes if they want to contain the Georgia offense.

Last week North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner attempted seven passes of that distance and all seven fell incomplete. Renner was held to just 4.5 yards per pass attempt, the second-worst mark in his career.

The threat of South Carolina’s star pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney likely had an impact on Renner’s performance.

Despite not recording a sack, Clowney led the Gamecocks with three pressures and made a difference with his mere presence (as shown in the chart to the right).

Clowney has a history with Murray too, with three career sacks of him, including a 25-yard sack-fumble in 2011 that resulted in a South Carolina touchdown.

Murray will also be without his top wideout after Malcolm Mitchell suffered a torn ACL against Clemson. Since 2011, Murray has 96.9 Total QBR when targeting Mitchell, the highest among wide receivers on this year’s roster in that span (min. 10 completions).

If Murray is held in check, Georgia will have to rely on its dynamic running game. The Bulldogs ran for 222 yards last week against Clemson, with much of the damage done inside the tackles by Todd Gurley.

Gurley totaled 142 of his 154 rushing yards between the tackles, including three carries of 20 yards or more. Over the last two seasons Gurley has 18 rushes of at least 20 yards. Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey is the only active running back with more.

As explosive as Gurley and the Georgia running game is, South Carolina’s defense is just as good at preventing long runs. Last season, the Gamecocks allowed six runs of 20 yards, the second-fewest in FBS, and held SEC opponents to the third-fewest yards per rush among conference teams.

That’s bad news for a Georgia team that is just 2-8 in the Murray era when rushing for 115 or fewer yards, including 0-2 against South Carolina.

How do SEC QBs rate via QBR?

August, 19, 2013
The SEC opens the 2013 season with six teams ranked in the top 12 of the preseason AP Poll. Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida and LSU all have legitimate chances to win an eighth straight BCS National Championship for the SEC.

As recent history suggests, quarterback play is essential to winning the title. Four of the last five quarterbacks to lead their team to a BCS National Championship have ranked in the top eight in Total QBR.

Heading into the 2013 season, what are the strengths and weaknesses of the starting quarterbacks of these six ranked teams from the perspective of ESPN’s new Total QBR metric?

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (90.5 Total QBR – 1st in FBS out of 122 qualified QBs)

Manziel converted a first down on 51.9 percent of his third-down pass attempts last season, best in FBS. He also ran for 28 first downs on third down, including 22 first downs on broken plays. As a result, Manziel led the nation in unadjusted Total QBR on third down (98.6).

In order to repeat his success, Manziel must improve his second-half performance. His unadjusted Total QBR in the first half of games was almost 20 points higher than his unadjusted Total QBR in the second half of games. In Texas A&M’s two losses against LSU and Florida, Manziel had a second-half unadjusted Total QBR of 9.7 and 9.3, respectively.

2. AJ McCarron, Alabama (81.5 Total QBR - 5th in FBS)

McCarron posted an above average QBR (above 50) in all 14 of his games last season. McCarron’s worst game was a 53.1 Total QBR against Georgia in the SEC Championship. Every qualified quarterback had at least one worse game (in terms of QBR) during the season. McCarron threw just three interceptions in 314 attempts, resulting in an FBS-leading 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Yet two of McCarron’s interceptions occurred inside of his opponents’ five yard line when the score was within seven points. Each of those interceptions decreased Alabama’s win probability by more than 10 percentage points.

3. Aaron Murray, Georgia (78.2 Total QBR – 13th in FBS)

Georgia gained a first down on 40.4 percent of Murray’s pass attempts last season, which ranked third in FBS. Murray led the nation in yards per attempt (10.1) and percentage of pass attempts that gained at least 20 yards (16.1 percent). His Total QBR rank jumped from 21st in his sophomore season to 13th in his junior season.

The biggest question surrounding Murray is his ability to win games against top-ranked competition. In his career, Murray has faced 14 teams that finished the season ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll. Georgia is 3-11 in those games and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in seven of those games.

In comparison, Georgia is 25-2 against all other opponents and Murray had a Total QBR below 60 in four of those 27 games.

It is important to note that Total QBR accounts for the strength of the defenses that Murray is facing.

4. Connor Shaw, South Carolina (68.2 Total QBR – 34th in FBS)

South Carolina gained a first down on 39.5 percent of Shaw’s pass attempts last season, which ranked seventh in FBS. In addition to precise passing, Shaw scrambled for 225 yards and 13 first downs when the play broke down.

Shaw must improve his downfield accuracy. Six of his seven interceptions last season came on passes of 20 yards or longer downfield. Additionally, he must improve on the road; Shaw’s had an unadjusted Total QBR of 42.8 in five road or neutral site games compared to an unadjusted Total QBR of 77.7 in six home games last season.

5. Jeff Driskel, Florida (60.4 Total QBR – 46th in FBS)

Driskel gained 470 yards and averaged nine yards per rush on designed running plays. As a result, he added the 16th-most clutch weighted expected points on rushing plays in FBS last season.

However, Driskel was sacked 36 times on just 310 dropbacks (11.6 percent). He lost the second-most clutch weighted expected points as a result of sacks, behind only NC State’s Mike Glennon.

6. Zach Mettenberger, LSU (47.1 Total QBR – 79th in FBS)

Mettenberger’s best game of the season came in LSU’s 21-17 loss to Alabama. He posted a 95.5 Total QBR in that game, which was the second-highest Total QBR allowed by Alabama in the Nick Saban Era (Stephen Garcia 97.3 Total QBR in 2010).

Yet, Mettenberger struggled against the rest of the SEC, completing 52 percent of his passes with as many touchdowns as interception (4) in his seven other conference games. He had a below average (below 50) Total QBR in five of those seven games.

Total QBR measures all quarterback contributions to scoring accounting for game context and adjusted for opponent strength. It is based on a 0-100 scale, and 50 is average. For more information, see the description of the NFL version, which has the same principles as the college version, here

Can Aaron Murray take the next step?

August, 18, 2013

Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAaron Murray has struggled against top teams like Alabama in his career.
Aaron Murray and Georgia came within five yards of an SEC Title and potential trip to the BCS National Championship game last season.

Yet questions remain about Murray’s ability to win the big game and lead Georgia to its first National Championship in more than 20 years.

As the 2013 season approaches, Murray must continue to build upon the positive momentum that he started in 2012 and take the next step against top competition in 2013.

A Look Back at 2012

Aaron Murray set Georgia’s single-season passing yardage and touchdown records in 2012, throwing for 3,893 yards and 36 scores while leading the Bulldogs to a 12-2 record.

Murray improved in just about every passing statistic from his sophomore season, including a significant increase in his downfield accuracy. On throws of 20 yards or longer, Murray raised his completion percentage by more than 17 percentage points, and he started the season by throwing 70 consecutive passes of this distance without an interception.

Unfortunately for Murray, his streak ended against Alabama in the SEC Championship.

As a result of his improved accuracy on his downfield passes, Murray finished the season ranked second in the nation in pass efficiency rating and averaged an FBS-best 10.1 yards per attempt.

Murray ended the season on a tear, throwing 19 touchdowns and four interceptions in his final six games while averaging over 300 yards per game. In the Bulldogs’ 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, Murray tied his career high in both passing yards (427) and touchdowns (5).

He will look to build upon this momentum as he begins 2013 with a tough September schedule.

What’s Ahead for 2013?

Aaron Murray has the chance to break every major SEC career-passing record this season, but the real question is whether he can win the big games and lead Georgia to its first National Championship since 1980.

Murray has faced 14 teams in his career that ended the season in the AP top 25. Georgia is 3-11 and Murray has thrown 16 interceptions with a completion rate of 55 percent in those games.

He is 25-2 against all other opponents, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of better than 4-to-1.

It is important to note that Murray improved his winning percentage against ranked opponents in 2012, going 3-2 against teams that finished the season in the final AP poll and coming within five yards of beating Alabama in the SEC title game.

Yet, there is still work to be done. Murray’s two worst games of his career, in terms of opponent-adjusted Total QBR, came against South Carolina and Florida in 2012.

The good news is we will not have to wait long to see if Murray is ready to step up against top-tier competition. Georgia opens the season with No. 8 Clemson, No. 6 South Carolina, North Texas and No. 12 LSU.

AJ McCarron: Most consistent QB in FBS

August, 9, 2013

AP Photo/David J. PhillipAJ McCarron and Alabama will attempt to win a third straight BCS title this season.
For the past two national championship seasons, AJ McCarron has been the leading force of the Alabama offense. With McCarron’s steady leadership, the Tide are poised to make a run at a third consecutive national title.

McCarron boasts a 25-2 career record as the Crimson Tide’s starting quarterback with 46 touchdown passes to just eight interceptions. Last season, he threw 30 touchdown passes and three interceptions in 314 pass attempts while averaging 9.3 yards per attempt. That 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio led the FBS.

And he's done it on the big stage. Two of McCarron’s top four Opponent Adjusted QBR games in his career were in Alabama’s back-to-back BCS Championship victories, in which he posted a 90.3 QBR in 2012 and 95.6 in 2013.

Steady at the helm
Last season, McCarron completed 65.1 percent of his passes thrown 20 yards or more with 12 touchdowns and no interceptions. His completion percentage on such passes is better than other well-known SEC quarterbacks like Aaron Murray, Johnny Manziel and Zach Mettenberger.

McCarron posted an above average QBR (avg.: 50.0) in all 14 games last season. His worst Total QBR was 53.1 against Georgia in the SEC Championship game. Every qualified FBS quarterback had at least one game with a worse performance than that last season.

Opposing defenses attempted to bring extra pressure to neutralize McCarron’s effectiveness. McCarron faced five or more pass rushers in 30 percent of his dropbacks. However, McCarron’s yards per attempt were higher when facing additional pressure (10.6 to 8.8) than when he faced a standard pass rush.

Strong supporting cast
With a strong returning receiving corps, led by last year’s freshman phenom, Amari Cooper, McCarron will look to take on more responsibilities in the offense.

Cooper finished the season strongly after building a rapport with McCarron. Six of his 11 touchdown receptions came in the last five games of the season, including two in the National Championship game against Notre Dame.

Joining Cooper are Kevin Norwood, the second-leading receiver last season, and Chris Black, the 22nd overall prospect in the 2012 recruiting class, according to the ESPN 150.

Room to grow
One area in which he could improve this season is his red-zone efficiency. Two of his three interceptions were in the red zone last season, including the one from the Texas A&M two-yard line in the fourth quarter that ultimately cost the Tide an undefeated season.

So what’s at stake for the quarterback who seemingly has accomplished it all?

Alabama is the No. 1 team in the Preseason USA Today Poll and will strive for an undefeated season -- one thing McCarron has not yet accomplished -- and an unprecedented third consecutive national championship. If McCarron can remain consistent leading the Tide, he could emerge as a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy.

QBs the story in college football this fall

May, 20, 2013
The 2013 college football season could showcase one of the best college quarterback classes ever. Here are five reasons why:

Each of the top six teams in last season’s final AP poll returns its leading passer. The last time that happened was entering the 1982 season. That 1982 group led to the famed 1983 NFL draft class that boasted six quarterbacks chosen in the first round -- including Hall of Famers John Elway, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.

Each of the top five and 10 of the top 11 quarterbacks in terms of passing efficiency return to school. In all, seven players with a passing efficiency of at least 160 last season are coming back, more than in the previous three seasons combined.

This class is expected to produce a number of NFL starting quarterbacks. Four of Todd McShay’s top 15 prospects in the 2014 draft are quarterbacks (Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Alabama’s AJ McCarron).

Yet, showing how deep this class is, Brock Huard ranks Georgia's Aaron Murray, Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Ohio State's Braxton Miller ahead of either McCarron or Manziel on his quarterback draft board.

The SEC is in prime shape to win its eighth straight national title with 11 of 14 starting quarterbacks from last season returning to school. Among the 11 are the starters of the top three teams in each division including Manziel, Murray and McCarron.

Last season, Manziel set the SEC record for total offense with 5,116 yards. Murray is on pace to set conference records for most career passing yards and total offense, and McCarron is the two-time BCS national champion.

The SEC isn’t the only conference returning elite quarterbacks. The Big Ten, Mountain West and MAC each return their first- and second-team quarterbacks from last season. So would Conference USA and the WAC if realignment hadn’t altered those conferences. The Big 12 is the only conference that doesn’t return either its first- or second-team quarterback.

Among the returnees, Boyd could challenge the ACC record for total offense in a career, Troy’s Corey Robinson is on pace to shatter the Sun Belt’s career record for total offense, and Jordan Lynch returns after leading Northern Illinois to its first ever BCS bowl game last season.

SEC Championship: Ten things to know

November, 30, 2012
Ten things you need to know about Saturday’s SEC Championship Game in Atlanta between the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) and No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (11-1):

1. This is the first SEC Championship Game between teams coming off a win in which they both scored at least 40 points.

2. Contrary to what most might guess, Georgia Coach Mark Richt has outperformed his Alabama counterpart, Nick Saban, in career win percentage (.750-.733) and 10-win seasons (8-7) and both have seven bowl wins. Saban does have a distinct edge in one category – national championships (3-0).

3. Alabama QB AJ McCarron has made a huge leap in his deep-throw completion percentage this season. He is completing 65 percent of passes thrown 20 yards or longer. Last season he completed 39 percent of passes thrown 20 yards or more.

4. Georgia QB Aaron Murray leads all FBS quarterbacks in passing efficiency and comes to this game on a roll with 13 TD passes and no interceptions in his past four games.

5. The SEC Championship Game has been anything but competitive. Since 1998 alone, only one of the games has been decided by fewer than 10 points and the average margin of victory in the 14 games is 19 points. The past two SEC championships were decided by 39 and 32 points.

6. Big-play showdown: The Georgia offense had 75 plays that gained 20 or more yards this season. That ranked seventh among all FBS teams. Alabama’s defense, on the other hand, allowed only 32 plays of 20-plus yards. That was the sixth-fewest total in FBS.

7. Two players who might matter a lot: Georgia LB Jarvis Jones (he tied for the FBS lead in tackles for loss at 1.95 per game and was fourth in sacks) and Alabama kicker Jeremy Shelley (only perfect kicker in FBS among qualified players, 60-for-60 on extra points and 10-for-10 on field goals).

8. Both teams average more than 7 yards on first-down plays (only eight other FBS teams can claim that) and Alabama and Georgia are two of four FBS teams that average more than 11 yards per pass play on first down.

9. Georgia is 2-8-1 since 1990 in games against teams ranked among the top three in the AP poll. In the past four seasons, Alabama is 4-2 against top-five teams and 18-5 against teams ranked in AP Top 25.

10. Presumably, Notre Dame and the BCS Championship Game awaits the winner. Georgia is 1-0 all-time against the Irish, winning the 1981 Sugar Bowl behind Herschel Walker’s two touchdowns and 150 yards rushing to claim the school’s only national championship. Alabama is 1-5 against Notre Dame but the schools haven’t played each other since 1987.

Big plays on first down helping Georgia

October, 6, 2012
(No. 6 South Carolina Gamecocks host the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs, Saturday at 7 ET on ESPN.)

One of the most marquee games on Saturday is the SEC East showdown between Georgia and South Carolina. And the spotlight won’t shine any brighter than it does on the explosive Georgia offense. The Bulldogs' 43 plays of 20+ yards (26 pass, 17 rush) are six more than any other FBS team and 15 more than any other SEC team.

Something that might exacerbate the issue for the home Gamecocks is that they have been vulnerable to big passing plays, having allowed 17 completions of at least 20 yards (tied for third most in the SEC). The Gamecocks have been much stingier against the run, allowing just two runs of 20+ yards, which is tied for the fewest in the SEC.

Georgia has also had a great deal of success on first down, averaging an FBS-best 9.6 yards per play -- including 14.0 yards per pass attempt. When the Bulldogs throw on first down, they have converted first downs 49.2 percent of the time, best in FBS.

Statistically, that should suit Georgia just fine since the key to moving the ball against South Carolina on first down is throwing the ball. The Gamecocks allow just 2.0 yards per rush on first down; however their defense allows 7.5 yards per pass attempt on first down. That ranks 11th in the 14-team SEC.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the key for South Carolina up front. Clowney is second in the SEC in both tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (5.5). He had his breakout game last season against Georgia with two sacks and a forced fumble that Melvin Ingram returned for a touchdown.

If South Carolina can slow Georgia down and force it into converting on third down, then the Bulldogs could be at a disadvantage. That's because Georgia lost leading receiver Michael Bennett to a season-ending knee injury on Tuesday. QB Aaron Murray often looked to Bennett on third down this season, completing 19-of-32 throws on third down with eight of those completions going to Bennett.

The loss of Bennett hurts, but the return of WR/CB Malcolm Mitchell to offense on a near-full-time basis should help replace Bennett’s third-down production. Last season, Murray was 14-20 throwing to Mitchell on third downs, with all 14 completions going for first downs.

Can LSU D-eliver against Georgia?

November, 30, 2011
LSU and Georgia enter Saturday’s SEC Championship Game as two of the hottest teams in college football. LSU holds the FBS’ longest active winning streak at 13 games while Georgia’s 10-game streak is third-longest.

With a win, LSU solidifies its place in the BCS Championship Game and becomes just the fifth team in the BCS era to be a wire-to-wire No. 1 in the BCS Standings. It’s worth noting two of the previous four that went wire-to-wire lost the title game.

As LSU goes after its 11th SEC title, and second under Les Miles, it will be all about defense despite a Tigers offense that leads the conference in scoring at 38.2 points per game.

The Tigers are ranked top six nationally in five major defensive categories: turnover margin (first), total defense (second), scoring defense (second), rush defense (fourth) and pass defense (sixth). LSU has scored seven defensive or special teams touchdowns, which is just five less than their defense has allowed all year (12).

Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne lead a unit which has allowed just 27 plays of 20 yards or longer, second fewest in FBS. They have held their opponents to a completion percentage of 13.3 on passes of 20 yards or longer and no opposing player has more than one reception on passes 20 yards or longer. In fact the Tigers have more interceptions (eight) than their opponents have receptions (six) on 20-yard throws.

As a result, it takes an average of 10 plays per drive to score a touchdown against LSU, highest average in FBS.

Why has LSU been so successful on defense? One reason has been the blitz.

LSU sends five or more pass rushers on 38.5 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks on third down and is the only team in FBS that has not allowed a touchdown pass on third down this season.

With all the talk focusing on LSU’s defense, it should be noted that Georgia is no slouch on that side of the ball either. They are the only SEC team to force its conference opponents to no gain, or a loss, on at least 40 percent of their plays in every game.

That being said, Georgia has to be successful on offense to crack LSU’s undefeated armor.

Quarterback Aaron Murray leads the SEC and is sixth nationally with 16 touchdown passes on first down this season. However when it comes to the deep ball, Murray has struggled recently.

In his last two games he completed 2 of 12 passes of 20 yards or longer including two interceptions and no touchdowns. For the season, Murray has completed 28.8 percent of these throws with four interceptions.

Murray, who has thrown for a school-record 32 touchdowns, including 14 in his last four games, needs to play well if Georgia hopes to pull off the upset.

Saturday will be the third time these two teams will meet in the conference championship (each has won one). It is interesting that the winner of the last five SEC Championship games has gone on to win the BCS National Championship. Ironically, the last winner that did not win the title was Georgia in 2005. That year, the Bulldogs defeated LSU in the championship game, but lost to West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl.
Television remotes will be busy Saturday night. Just as a pair of top-five teams (Oregon and LSU) square off on ABC, the weekend’s other ranked battle kicks off as No. 5 Boise State meets No. 19 Georgia in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game (ESPN, 8 ET).

It’s just the second all-time meeting between these teams. In the other, also a season opener back in 2005, No. 13 Georgia routed No. 18 Boise State 48-13 in Athens.

For Boise State, a tough opponent out of the gates has become the norm, as has beating them. This will be the Broncos’ third straight season facing a top-20 opponent to start the season. In 2009, they beat No. 16 Oregon 19-8 in Boise. Last season, it was a 33-20 win over No. 10 Virginia Tech at FedEx Field in Maryland.

For Georgia, a top-five opponent this early is nearly unprecedented. You have to go back 46 years to 1965 to find the last example. That’s when the Bulldogs opened the season with an 18-17 victory over No. 5 Alabama in Athens.

It won’t get much easier for Georgia, which draws No. 12 South Carolina next. The Bulldogs are one of three FBS teams who will start the season with consecutive games against currently-ranked opponents. Only East Carolina and Florida Atlantic share that fate.

That’s a particularly daunting task for a Georgia team that has struggled against ranked foes. The Bulldogs have lost seven of their last eight such games, and were 0-4 against ranked opponents in 2010.

Boise State has its own history to overcome. The Broncos are 0-4 all-time against current SEC teams, losing their past three by a combined 81 points.

The pressure falls on quarterback Kellen Moore, and his 38-2 career record as a starter. Both those losses have come against ranked opponents, but he’s fared well overall against the Top 25.

In eight starts, he is 6-2 with 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions. That includes wins at No. 17 Oregon in 2008 and against No. 10 Virginia Tech in a virtual road game to open last season.

Moore’s key weapon has been the big strike -- over the past two seasons, he’s connected on 116 completions of 20 or more yards. That’s two more than Ryan Mallett, who had the second-most over that span.

Of course, Moore will be without his two favorite targets. Titus Young and Austin Pettis, both now departed for the NFL, were targeted on 49 percent (401 of 814) of his throws last season. Adding to those concerns, projected starting wideout Geraldo Boldewijn was one of three Broncos suspended Friday.

With quarterback Aaron Murray looking to build off his prolific freshman campaign, Georgia again turns to a newcomer. Highly-touted freshman Isaiah Crowell, the nation’s top rated running back recruit, is expected to debut. He looks to bolster a running attack that ranked just 73rd in the nation in yards per game last season.