ORLANDO, Fla. -- Aaron Murray was so torn up about his impending decision on whether to stay at Georgia for his senior season that he hopped a flight for New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl immediately after winning game MVP honors in Tuesday afternoon’s Capital One Bowl victory against Nebraska.
As a member of the American Football Coaches Association’s Good Works Team, Murray was invited to participate in a special football camp before the Sugar Bowl and to be recognized at the game, so he took his older brother Josh along for the ride. But the fun and games will soon end for Georgia’s record-setting quarterback, and he knows he will have to seriously weigh his options before deciding on his future.
"I think I’m going to sit down with my parents in the next few days and still have to draw up the pros and cons and go from there,” Murray said after passing for 427 yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 45-31 bowl win against the Cornhuskers. “… Jarvis and I are blessed to have this opportunity to make this tough decision, but right now I’m just enjoying the process.”
In truth, Murray and Geathers’ decisions are much more difficult than the one that awaits Jones. The two-time All-American outside linebacker seems to be almost a sure bet to become an NFL first-round draft pick.
He told reporters during bowl practice last week that if he elects to skip his senior season at UGA, it will be in an effort to be the top overall selection in the draft.
“If I decide to come out, I’m going to train to be No. 1,” Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m not going to train to be in the top 10 or the top five. I’m going to train to be the No. 1 draft pick.”
But unlike fellow junior linebacker Alec Ogletree, who announced immediately after the bowl that he will enter the upcoming draft, Jones and Geathers did not announce their plans on Tuesday. They have until the Jan. 15 deadline to determine whether to submit their names as early entries to the draft.
“If these guys choose to stay, I’m thrilled obviously,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said during Tuesday’s postgame press conference. “But if they choose to go, I’m their No. 1 fan either way because I want what’s best for them. I can’t really predict that for them. They’ve got to figure out that for themselves. They’re grown men now.”
If one or more of the remaining draft-eligible juniors return, the Bulldogs’ prospects for 2013 will obviously get a shot in the arm. They’re already losing nine valuable seniors off their defense, plus Ogletree, so next season could become a rebuilding period on that side of the ball.
The offense loses only two senior starters, however, in receivers Tavarres King and Marlon Brown. If Murray -- whom ESPN Scouts Inc. rates as the No. 11 draft-eligible quarterback prospect for 2013 -- opts to stay and become a four-year starter, the Bulldogs might still be a preseason top-10 team next season.
<1--inline1-->If he takes a chance on the NFL, offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will likely turn over the keys of an otherwise experienced offense to Hutson Mason.
“I don’t know what our identity will be,” Bobo said. “He does some things maybe a little bit better than Aaron and Aaron does some things better than him. But I have confidence in both those guys. And that’s just something we’ll talk about with Aaron later on this week. But you’ve got to feel good about the guys that are coming back.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham vowed to have a similar conversation with Jones, in an attempt to fully educate him as to where he stands in NFL personnel execs’ minds. The former NFL assistant clearly believes Jones has the potential to become a dynamic player in the pros whenever he decides to test the draft waters.
“I’ve been around some pretty good ’backers. DeMarcus Ware, [Anthony] Spencer, and he’s definitely up there with those guys,” Grantham said of two standout players on his last NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys. “He brings a little different flavor to what he does. He can set the edge in the run game. He’s got the ability to rush the passer. He’s got some instincts. He can get his hands on balls. He had a pick against Missouri and he actually batted a ball today in coverage.
“So I think he kind of has his own little flavor and I think he’ll be pretty dynamic at whatever he chooses to do.”
Spring semester begins at Georgia on Jan. 7, so the Bulldogs’ juniors have only a few days to weigh their options before classes start. While they haven’t rushed to make a rash decision yet, they understand that they have less than two weeks to come to a conclusion.
“I want their heart to be in the decision. The last thing I want to do is try to talk a guy into staying if his heart’s not in it,” Richt said. “I’d rather him go through the [evaluation] process and come out of there and say, ‘I want to stay.’ ”