Tossin' Clausen Into UT's 2004 QB Mix

Autumn Saturdays should be a lot simpler for the Clausen clan of southern California.

No longer will patriarch Jim Clausen's allegiances be divided between SEC East and SEC West, between Baton Rogue, La., and Rocky Top Tennessee, between the power T and eye of the Tiger, between LSU and UT, between renown son Casey and unsung younger sibling Rick.

The Clausens will no longer be a house divided, but rather a family reunited in Knoxville, Tenn., where they maintain a condominium and part-time residence in support of Casey's standout collegiate career. Rick's decision to transfer to UT, which had been rumored for weeks, became official on Thursday with an announcement by the family.

Rick, who played his first two seasons at LSU, gained a release from the school and will begin classes at Tennessee this summer. He will have two years of eligibility beginning with the 2004 season.

Clausen was a freshman on the 2001 LSU team that played Tennessee twice, including the SEC Championship game in Atlanta where the Tigers upset the Vols and knocked them out of a national title shot. Rick didn't play in either of those contests, but he did start a game for LSU as a sophomore in 2002 and played in four other contests, completing a modest 5-of-12 passes for 35 yards and an interception.

He signed with the Tigers off a standout senior season at Taft High School (Los Angeles) in which he connected on 264-of-430 passes for 3,401 yards and 38 touchdowns. Although Rick Clausen doesn't come in with impressive college credentials, the slender 6-2, 195, signal caller has a premium pedigree and he proved to be an amazing escape artist. In a single stroke, he essentially extricated himself from a QB log jam at LSU directly into a battle for the starting job at Tennessee next spring.

He'll sit out this season, but will be able to practice with the team and will be in an ideal position to learn from his older brother. If Rick Clausen is able to augment his football acumen with physical maturation, he'll could become the front runner in a suspect field that includes a pair of struggling passers in C.J. Leak and James Banks along with freshman signee Bo Hardegree and Fork Union walk-on Brett Wayman.

No doubt, Tennessee will sign at least one premier prospect to the Class of 2004, but unless he's graduates high school at mid-term, he won't be in a strong position to challenge for the starting job next fall.

Clearly, it's a much better situation than Rick faced at LSU contending against seven other scholarship quarterbacks, including a pair of veterans with significant playing experience along with a pair of high school All-Americans in LaMarcus Russell and Matt Flynn. In fact, the competition was so imposing it prompted another high school all-American, Robert Lane of Neville, La., to have an 11th hour change of heart as he eventually signed with Ole Miss.

Rick Clausen gave it one final shot this spring in hopes of making a significant move up the Tigers depth chart. He completed 4-of-10 passes for 66 yards in the spring game before the sophomore southpaw decided discretion was the better part of valor and Tennessee offered a brighter future than LSU.

Clausen's choice of UT could pave the way for further southern migration by his family. Sister Katie Clausen is a talented volleyball player entering her senior season in California and she's considering entering UT next year. Moreover, youngest sibling Jimmy Clausen is also looking at becoming a Vol. The 6-3 signal caller is entering his sophomore season and is rated one of the nation's rising stars at quarterback. Reputed to be the best athlete in the Clausen family, Jimmy could sign with Tennessee in 2007 two seasons after Rick finishes his stint in Big Orange.

Should Rick wrestled the starting job away from the competition next fall and Jimmy has the same success as Casey did as a four-year starter, Tennessee could conceivably have a Clausen at starting quarterback for an entire decade stretching back to the 2000 campaign.

That of course is a best case scenario for the Clausens. Rick will have to first earn a scholarship before he lands the starting job and he's more likely to help stabilize the position during what could be a hectic transition in 2004. That was much the case when Casey reported to Tennessee in January of 2000 and a battle ensued between Clausen, Joey Mathews, A.J. Suggs and John Rattay.

After suffering from a dead arm due to overuse, Casey finally prevailed over the competition that fall, earning his first start against Alabama. He led Tennessee to a 5-1 record as a starter that year, winning all of his regular season starts and led the Vols to 11 victories as a sophomore. Injuries cost him a lot of playing time last year, but the Vols went 7-4 in games he started. Overall his record as a starter at UT is 23-7 entering his senior campaign.

By the way, Suggs and Rattay both transferred to other schools and Mathews gave up football with a year of eligibility remaining. Which goes to show sometimes two quarterbacks are one too many and other times four are not nearly enough.

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