Freshman quarterbacks making their first collegiate starts have a pretty impressive track record on The Hill. Check it out:
With senior Jerry Colquitt down for the year with a knee injury and Tennessee off to a 1-3 start in 1994, Phillip Fulmer rolled the dice and started Peyton Manning in Game 5 against 17th-ranked Washington State. Manning completed 8 of 15 passes for 80 yards and speedster Nilo Silvan scored on a 62-yard flanker reverse as the Vols upset the Cougars 10-9 at Neyland Stadium. Manning wound up leading Tennessee to seven wins in eight starts that season, capped by a 45-23 blowout of Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
When Tennessee limped to a 2-3 record in 2000, Fulmer handed the ball to freshman Casey Clausen for Game 6 against Alabama. Clausen completed 17 of 24 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns that day as the Vols stemmed the Tide 20-10 at Neyland Stadium. Clausen then directed defeats of No. 17 South Carolina (17-14, Memphis (19-17), Arkansas (63-20), Kentucky (59-20) and Vanderbilt (28-26). He was 6-0 as a starter before losing 35-21 to Kansas State on a frigid afternoon in the Cotton Bowl.
Juniors Rick Clausen and C.J. Leak fizzled in 2004 preseason scrimmages, prompting Fulmer to elevate true freshmen Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge to No. 1 and 1-A on the depth chart. Schaeffer took the initial snap in Game 1 against UNLV, becoming the first SEC true freshman to start a season opener since freshman eligibility was reinstated in 1973. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown as the Vols romped 42-17. He also rushed seven times for 29 yards and another TD.
Although Schaeffer was 3-0 as a starter in ‘04, Fulmer was so enamored with Ainge's passing skills that he handed him the reins for Game 4 against an eighth-ranked Auburn team that was headed for a 13-0 season. Ainge completed 17 of 35 attempts for 173 yards and a touchdown that evening but threw four interceptions as the talented Tigers prevailed 34-10.
With Tennessee off to a 2-6 start behind junior Matt Simms, Derek Dooley gave rifle-armed freshman Tyler Bray the ball for Game 9 at Memphis. Bray made a dazzling debut, completing 17 of 28 passes for 308 yards and five touchdowns as the Vols raced to a 40-7 halftime lead. He was pulled early in the second half, finishing 19 of 33 for 325 yards. Bray then guided the Vols to defeats of Ole Miss (52-14), Vanderbilt (24-10) and Kentucky (24-14) before suffering his first loss as a starting QB – a 30-27 two-overtime heart-breaker to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.
|Petyon Manning won seven games in eight starts as a freshman at Tennessee.|
The obvious question: Will Dobbs' starting debut at Missouri be a rousing success, a la Manning, Casey Clausen, Schaeffer and Bray, or will it be a disappointment, a la Ainge and Worley?
For what it's worth, Vol teammates believe Dobbs will do just fine.
"I am very confident," junior running back Marlin Lane said. "No matter what number he was on the depth chart at quarterback, they all know the material well. We just go in and protect them."
Sophomore receiver Alton Howard also is impressed with Dobbs, noting: "He is consistent with knowing the plays … his throws, reading the run. With him doing that and having speed, that is going to help us."
Senior defensive end Jacques Smith called Dobbs "a tall athlete who can run and throw," adding: "He's very intelligent, as you can tell by all the awards he won before coming to Tennessee. He's a very smart guy, and I'm just so glad to have him on our team."
Redshirt freshman receiver Jason Croom also believes strongly in Dobbs, who seems unaffected by his sudden ascension to the first-team job.
"He hasn't changed," Croom said. "He's making sure we understand where we're supposed to be. If you mess up on something he's telling us to get back on the line and do it till we get it right."