- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray couldn't help but be impressed at the collection of talent gathered around him.
The Georgia Bulldogs signal-caller has been around the block a few times -- with 27 starts to his credit, Murray is by far the SEC's most experienced starting quarterback -- but even Georgia's quarterback was in awe this summer at the Manning Passing Academy, as he watched 40 of the nation's other top college quarterbacks show off their skills.
USC's Matt Barkley would take a rep. Then Arkansas' Tyler Wilson and West Virginia's Geno Smith, followed by Tennessee's Tyler Bray and Murray's former UGA quarterback competitor Zach Mettenberger, now at LSU.
"It was a sight to see just all the talent we had out there of quarterbacks," Murray said. "I would throw a rep and just sit back and watch the other guys throw. It was pretty cool. It was like a mini-combine. It was pretty much every top quarterback that would be drafted the next two years was there, so it was definitely pretty cool to see."
And yet those on hand said that Murray matched those ballyhooed talents throw for throw. Perhaps it served as a preview of the 2013 or 2014 NFL draft debates about whether the 6-foot-1 Murray can become a starting quarterback in professional football.
But before he reaches that point, Murray has something to prove in the college game: that he is a winner who can get the job done in the biggest games. Thus far, the jury is still out on that.
Work to be done
Georgia lost its first five games against ranked opponents with Murray under center before finally breaking through with wins against No. 24 Auburn and No. 25 Georgia Tech near the end of last season.
They went 0-3 against ranked teams in 2010 with Murray at QB and lost the first two games of 2011, both against ranked teams. So he was 0-5 between 2010 and 2011.
Murray has already etched his name into the Georgia and SEC record books with 35 touchdown passes last season -- a total that ranks first in school history and ties Florida's Danny Wuerffel for sixth in league annals -- but he knows statistics play only a small role in defining a legacy.
"That's all that matters: Winning," Murray said. "I want to be considered one of the best in Georgia history. I've got to win games and lead this team to victories and championships if I want to do that."
If Murray is to accomplish that goal, he knows his first duty is to reduce the number of costly turnovers he produces. While his 35 passing touchdowns ranked seventh among FBS quarterbacks, putting him among the likes of Barkley, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor and Boise State's Kellen Moore, he also threw 14 interceptions. That total tied for 10th among all FBS quarterbacks.
Add in lost fumbles against South Carolina, LSU and Michigan State, and Murray was responsible for 10 turnovers and 17 touchdowns against ranked opponents last season.
His plan to reduce those mistakes revolves around improving his footwork and decision-making. At the same time, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo hopes to make those adjustments without causing Murray to overthink things.
"You never want to paralyze him by overanalyzing every little throw and everything, but you've got to coach him up, and there's certain decisions that you should make and if you make a bad one you've got to live with it," Bobo said. "We're going to throw interceptions this year and we're going to have a fumble, but we've got to do a better job of knowing when to and he's got to use his ability to run a little bit more instead of trying to force it."
It helps that Murray is entering his fourth season at Georgia and his third fall as the Bulldogs' starter, so he has a full grasp of the team's offensive concepts. Although he'll be playing behind an offensive line that is rebuilding, with newcomers in the backfield, he has developed the confidence and knowledge of the system to change plays and protections when necessary at the line of scrimmage.
"He has enough of an understanding of our offensive system and the defenses that we play and he's a student of the game, where if he sees something and he knows that this is the very best play against this look, he can go to it in a heartbeat," Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
You know where to find me
There is no doubt Murray is indeed a football junkie. He's so fanatical about watching film that between football and classes -- Murray is in graduate school after earning a psychology degree this spring -- his roommates don't see much of him.
"At the house, we barely ever see him because he's always working," said linebacker Christian Robinson, one of Murray's roommates. "It's either school or football. You want that at quarterback. You want a guy that takes it seriously and you know you can count on him. He's definitely put in the time, put in the effort, diet, everything -- and that's what you want in a guy that's going to lead your offense."
Leadership is another trait that Murray developed as he matured and gained confidence. There was only so much he could do to take command of the huddle as a nervous redshirt freshman in 2010, but players now respect him as a veteran, and he has the authority to call out teammates should the need arise.
He had the gumption to recently say that Bobo's season goal of a 65 percent completion rate was not what he is aiming for this fall. Murray wants to hit 70. When asked whether the offense should play conservatively to allow Georgia's stellar defense to secure victories, Murray said his goal is to score 40, 50 or 60 points in games instead of winning 10-0.
He wants Georgia's offense to excel because it will make the Bulldogs awfully difficult to beat. And if they are winning, he knows postseason awards and recognition will follow. And nothing makes a more convincing point in a quarterback's favor than the combination of wins and statistical excellence.
"I want to lead this team to win championships," Murray said. "I say this every year, that I want to do well statistically to put this team in the best situation every game to score touchdowns and put points on the board.
"But at the end of the day I just want to win games. I want to lead this team to the SEC championship, I want to lead this team to a national championship, and I think if I do that, that's the type of elite quarterback I want to be."