Athens a Cursed Stop For UT Starters

It's not surprising Tennessee's starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Georgia is still up in the air. In fact, there's something of a cursed history for UT signal callers that have started in Athens against the Bulldogs over the last decade.

It all began in 1994 when the Vols invaded Athens for the season's second game. UT was coming in off a 26-24 loss to UCLA on the coast, a game in which it lost fifth-year senior and first-year starter Jerry Colquitt on the first series to a season-ending knee injury. The Vols shuffled a trio of quarterbacks in the game following Colquitt's heartbreaking setback, including true freshmen Brandon Stewart and Peyton Manning. The third UT QB also seeing his first college football action that night in Pasadena was Todd Helton, a Knoxville native who went on to become a perennial Major League Baseball all-star.

Helton's edge in experience running Tennessee's system earned him the nod against Georgia, and he demonstrated the ability to run the offensive attack in an impressive 41-23 victory. Unfortunately, that would prove to be the pinnacle of Helton's college gridiron career. He started the next week against Florida but the Vols couldn't move the ball in a 31-0 shutout. Helton also started the fourth game at Mississippi State but suffered a minor injury and gave way to the freshmen. Because his professional future was in baseball, Helton decided playing football was hazardous to his wealth and limited himself to a sideline role. Two weeks after earning his first ever start against Georgia he essentially retired from the game.

In 2000, Tennessee again went into Athens unsettled at quarterback. The starter in the season opener against Southern Mississippi was junior Joey Mathews of Seiverville, who struggled and was replaced the next week vs. Florida by redshirt freshman A.J. Suggs. UT lost that game but Suggs remained No. 1 on the depth chart, leading the Vols to a 70-3 victory over Louisiana-Monroe in the next game. He also started in Tennessee's overtime loss to LSU in Baton Rouge and again the next week against Georgia in Athens which ended in a 21-10 Bulldog triumph. That would prove to be Suggs last start for Tennessee as true freshmen Casey Clausen took over as the starter against Alabama and led the Vols to six straight victories down the stretch.

Ironically, Clausen held the top job for the next 25 games and didn't miss a start until the Vols played — you guessed it — Georgia in Athens. With Clausen sitting out with an injured collarbone, C.J. Leak was given the start at UGA. He lasted two series before being replaced by true freshman James Banks who turned in some dazzling scrambles.

Leak never started another game for the Vols while Banks got two more starts against South Carolina and Mississippi State before moving to wide receiver in 2003. He is redshirting this season and his days as a QB appear to be history.

On Saturday, the Vols go up against No. 3 Georgia with significant signal caller issues for the third straight visit. Brent Schaeffer started the first three games of the season before Ainge took over last week vs. Auburn. He threw four interceptions in that contest and also fumbled the ball on UT's 1 yard-line. Ainge appeared more comfortable spelling Schaeffer than he did starting. How that might influence Phillip Fulmer's decision on Saturday's starter remains a matter of speculation.

Considering UT's last two starting QBs in Athens never started another game for the Vols and that another starting quarterback's football career ended two games later, coming off the bench against the Bulldogs doesn't sound so bad.


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