Tyler Bray vs Aaron Murray: Round One

Here are the SEC quarterbacks that have been chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft in the last ten years:

  • 2011:  Cam Newton
  • 2010:  Tim Tebow
  • 2009:  Matthew Stafford
  • 2007:  JaMarcus Russell
  • 2006:  Jay Cutler
  • 2005:  Jason Campbell
  • 2004:  Eli Manning
  • 2003:  Rex Grossman
It's not bad, really, getting one player in there almost every year.  But it's a long way from the days of Manning vs. Wuerffel, when the league had a pair of marquee quarterbacks going at each other over a number of seasons.  Granted, Wuerffel wasn't a first round draft pick and didn't pan out in the NFL, but even the guys who have led the league in passing recently - names like Ryan Mallett and Andre Woodson - didn't really carry that marquee value.  Some of it has been the Tebows and Newtons of the world, a different kind of quarterback for a different generation, perhaps.  But regardless of all the factors, how long has it been since we had a really good QB rivalry in this league?

So then there's this:  a 2013 NFL Mock Draft.  In its first round, you'll find not one, not two, but three SEC quarterbacks.  There's Tyler Wilson, who we'll come back to in November.  There's Aaron Murray.  And atop it, with the first overall pick?  Tyler Bray.

That draft is actually from July, and is old news.  If you're saying, "I never heard that before!", it's because most of us tend to put little stock in 2013 Mock Drafts.  But while we're here, let me point out that the same site has a second mock draft from September by a second author...who also likes Tyler Bray at number one.  That's Bray:  the choice of Vol fans and those crazy enough to do a mock draft two years in the future.

Murray was the one who received all the summer accolades.  The SEC's Franchise Player.  Preseason All-SEC, first team (It should be noted that the second and third team selections were Stephen Garcia and Chris Relf.  Well done).  Tyler Bray broke Tennessee freshman passing records and the Vols and Dawgs finished with identical 6-7 records last season, yet Murray was the anointed one.

But the time for complaining about insignificant offseason honors is over, because Bray has done enough in September to make his own name.  So now in their first meeting as starting quarterbacks, these two sophomores will step in to Neyland Stadium as not just the league's future, but its present.

Will it be as simple as, "The team with the best quarterback on Saturday night wins"?

Aaron Murray and Tyler Bray were spectacular as freshmen in different ways.  While Bray piled up yardage against bad teams in November, Murray was the starter from day one.  Murray's yardage may have been smaller - 234.5 yards per game in 2010, still good for third in the league among those who started all season - but it was his accuracy and touchdown/interception ratio that were truly impressive.  Bray threw 10 interceptions in limited action.  Murray threw just 8 in 13 games.

Coming into the season, the promo was easy:  the cerebral quarterback vs. the gunslinger.  Bray would throw for more yards, more touchdowns, and more interceptions, but Murray would make all the right decisions and lead his team with pinpoint accuracy and a few timely runs.

Instead, here's what's happened:

  • Completion Percentage:  Bray 68.5, Murray 61.5
  • Yards Per Game:  Bray 332, Murray 220
  • Yards Per Attempt:  Bray 9.3, Murray 8.1
  • TD/INT:  Bray 14/2, Murray 13/6
While Bray has added incredible accuracy to his huge numbers, Murray is in a sophomore slump.  Maybe that's unfair; half of his interceptions came last week, could've been just one game.  But the only other way I know to say it is, it does not appear Murray has improved from his freshman to sophomore season.  Yet.  Right now, only guys named Tyler are allowed to be in the conversation for best quarterback in the SEC.

The catch, of course, for the final time in Bray's career, is the level of competition.  At the end of this month, we'll be able to measure Bray against anyone in college football and do so more than fairly.  But right now, we've got an isolated Florida game with the added factor of Justin Hunter's sudden departure...and that's it for quality.

Meanwhile, Murray has faced Boise State, South Carolina, and Mississippi State.  His performance last week stands out in the negative:  13 of 25 for 160 yards, 2 TDs but 3 INTs.  And he got hit a lot.

Murray is battle tested in ways Bray knows nothing about...but that starts changing in a big way Saturday.  It's not fair to place it all on yards - if Murray throws for more yards than Bray in this game, the Vols are in huge trouble - but performance will be a strong indicator of victory.  Can Bray continue to be this good in the games that matter most?  Will Tennessee find its primary success through the air against a Georgia defense that's second in the league against the pass?  Or will Murray bounce back and play like a veteran, exposing a young Tennessee defense by leading a balanced Georgia attack to victory?

This is round one of at least two in college, and perhaps both will go on to successful NFL careers.  But right now, the only thing keeping Tyler Bray from being better than Aaron Murray is lack of competition...and he can change that instantly by beating Murray Saturday night.

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