Who among the inhabitants of Planet Orange could have foreseen the Vols winning the national championship a year after Peyton Manning left and with tailback Jamal Lewis missing in action? Who among a teeming population of Vol Nationals could have conceived the nature of Tennessee's victory over Arkansas that year or the overtime upset of Florida? Who thought the 1998 Vols would become the first team in NCAA history to go 13-0 en route to a national championship? How many predicted the injury outbreak that ravaged the 2002 Vols? Or the remarkable rebound by the 1989 Tennessee team? How about the upheaval of UT's 1992 campaign? Or the circumstances that launched Manning's collegiate career in 1994?
With that quasi qualifier out of the way, and to borrow a well worn cliché: "You can only expect the unexpected." To wit: let's allow ourselves a football fantasy that only a too fertile imagination could spawn. Or is it that farfetched?
In light of the likelihood no leader will emerge from the quarterback race this spring, it's not difficult to see a true freshman either Eric Ainge or Brent Schaeffer eventually winning the job this fall. After all there is recent precedence for such an occurrence. But what about an all-freshman backfield at Tennessee before the 2004 season is finished?
As noted in an Inside Tennessee story from earlier today, Cory Anderson has made his mark at fullback since switching positions in the wake of Will Revill's decision to give up the game. However Anderson still won't have as much game experience as signee David Holbert who was rated the nation's No. 4 fullback prospect by Tom Lemming. Holbert started four seasons at Brentwood Academy and has the physical makeup to have an early impact at UT. It's easy to envision Holbert sharing fullback duties or even winning the job particularly in light of the punishment it entails.
Cedric Houston is the clear No. 1 tailback at this point but the senior-to-be hasn't been healthy for a complete season since he's arrived on campus in 2001. Jabari Davis has been more durable but he hasn't exhibited the vision or elusivity of a feature back. Junior Gerald Riggs has posted two undistinguished seasons since signing with the Vols as a high school all-American and has had his share of injuries and academic difficulties.
Enter freshman signees Ja'Kouri Williams and Arian Foster. Williams was rated the nation's No. 7 running back and has the speed as well as explosion to be a big-time back. At 5-11, 185, he'll have to get bigger and stronger to carry the load at tailback, but he has the frame and speed (4.39) to contribute as a change-of-pace runner this season. Foster, 6-1, 210, with 4.50 speed is a different story. He rose from nonentity as a sophomore in New Mexico to the No. 2 rated running back in the state California as a senior, a season in which he compiled 2,093 all-purpose yards and returned six kickoffs for touchdowns. It's certainly conceivable he could earn reps at tailback and depending on how he performs or injuries could be called upon to start. James Stewart turned the trick his freshman season as did Lewis in 1997.
Granted an all freshman backfield playing for Phillip Fulmer, a coach who is loyal to a fault, doesn't seem likely but stranger things have happened. Or is that just my imagination?