The final question of a mandatory postgame press conference, following an unimaginably painful defeat, didn’t immediately set off Georgia football coach Mark Richt.

Tale of Two Quarterbacks

Boyd Stat Murray

6-1, 225 Height, weight 6-1, 208

34/27 Games/Starts 41/41

21-6 W-L Record 28-13

62.5 Comp. pct. 61.5

8,053 Pass yards 10,091

73-28 TD-INT 95-32

16 Rush TD 9

149.6 Efficiency 158.55

51 School records 14

14-1 Heisman odds 12-1

It was somewhat directly, somewhat vaguely suggested Georgia’s 32-28 SEC championship game loss to Alabama last Dec. 1 — sending the Crimson Tide to the BCS national championship and forcing the Bulldogs to settle for a Capital One Bowl bid — would fuel the fire of critics who argue Richt and quarterback Aaron Murray “come up short on the biggest stage against the biggest opponents.”

Initially, Richt sidestepped the question with anguish. He was then excused from the podium, but about 30 seconds later, the dean of SEC head coaches returned to face reporters.

“I wanna say something else. If anybody thinks our guys didn’t play their tails off and Aaron Murray didn’t play his tail off, they’re crazy,” Richt said, visually disgusted. “I mean, that’s just unbelievable somebody would even bring that up.”

Murray is one of the most celebrated quarterbacks in his school’s history, record-setting for his longevity as well as his production. He came back for his fifth year and senior season, resisting the compulsion of NFL fame and fortune for one more go-around, prioritizing team goals over an instant payday. Yet for all he’s accomplished, he’s still dogged by jabs about what he hasn’t.

All that remind you of anybody else? Say, the reigning ACC Player of the Year?

“I’ve been in that position,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “You get labeled as ‘this particular quarterback’, or ‘you can’t do this in these games.’ I’ve been through some of those things here.”

Murray is 0-2 in SEC championship tests. Boyd is 0-2 against South Carolina.

And, come to think of it, Murray’s 0-3 vs. the Gamecocks, despite the Bulldogs’ historical dominance in the rivalry.

But Boyd rebounded from a poor end to his freshman year by winning the 2011 ACC Championship, then essentially slammed shut the mouths of doubters with his gutty performance beating LSU 25-24 in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last New Year’s Eve.

That’s how December ended at the Georgia Dome. It opened with Murray falling one play away — just say “five yards short” around Athens and watch the reactionary depression — from slaying the Crimson Tide.

“To come that close to winning a (league) championship and being able to compete for a national championship,” Murray said at SEC Media Days on July 18, “it’s hard to not give it one more go if you have the opportunity.”

Boyd can relate. Both Boyd and Murray, already college graduates with degree in hand, would have been likely middle-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Instead, they each may raise their stock with another sensational year.

“You’ve just got to keep pushing, keep leading, and building on your future and your legacy,” Boyd said. “I know that’s what he’s trying to do over there, and that’s what I’m trying to do over here.”

Murray’s thrown more touchdown passes than any other active FBS player (95) and should become Georgia’s all-time leader in passing yards by midseason.

He’s also what Richt calls “a very gracious ambassador for Georgia” and “a blessing for us” outside of football, as reflected by his 2012 honor on the American Football Coaches Association’s “Good Works Team.”

“I don’t care what some fan says; he is a great player and he has won at a high level,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Murray. “The quarterback always gets too much credit and too much blame, but the young man has represented his team well. I would think that he’s easily done above and beyond what he came to Georgia to do. The guy’s been exceptional.”

Like Boyd, Murray earns rave reviews from his coaches for his work ethic.

“He’s a 365-days-a-year quarterback,” Richt said, “meaning every single day he’s got a plan to get better personally. He has a plan to try to help his teammates get better. How he eats, how he trains, how he rests himself … (and) I bet he does more community service than anybody.”

Of course, either Murray or Boyd will open 0-1. No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Clemson clash on national television a week from Saturday night, and while the winner makes an early statement about national championship credentials, the loser, well, he can’t win the big game anyhow.

Except the top names in college football know that’s not true.

“It’s ironic that they’re playing one another,” said ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who will be in the broadcast booth Aug. 31. “I think that when you watch them, one of the things that you’ll be reminded is the benefit of having experience and how much that allows you to see the game a lot slower and be able to make better decisions.”

“I expect huge things from both these guys.”