It's bounce-back time

Two Tennessee players are among the 20 college football standouts most likely to have bounce-back years in 2006. So says Richard Cirminiello in an article entitled "Bound for a rebound … 20 players looking to come back strong" on the website.

The Vols in question are quarterback Erik Ainge and wide receiver Robert Meachem. Both enjoyed strong showings in 2004 but fell short of expectations in 2005.

Ainge completed 55 percent of his passes for 1,452 yards with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a true freshman in '04 but slumped to 45 percent, 737 yards, 5 TDs and 7 interceptions in '05. In addition, his passer efficiency rating plummeted from 135.9 to 89.9.

Meachem averaged 18.4 yards per catch on 25 receptions in 2004, parlaying four grabs into touchdowns. Although he caught a team-best 29 balls in '05, he averaged just 13.2 yards per catch and produced only two TDs.

Interestingly enough, the only other SEC player to make the top-20 list was Auburn receiver Courtney Taylor, who recorded just 22 catches last fall while slowed by a sprained ankle.

Taylor is ranked 7th on Cirminiello's list, while Ainge is ranked 10th and Meachem is rated 17th. Here's what the writer has to say about the two Volunteers:

10. QB Erik Ainge, Tennessee – The $64,000 question around Knoxville is whether Ainge can recapture the form that made him an instant star as a true freshman in 2004. He should be able to. The presence of David Cutcliffe, a noted developer of quarterback, will help tremendously, as will the four-month break from football to clear his head after last season's nightmare. Ainge did enough as a wide-eyed teen two years ago to prove he has talent, but now he has to show his teammates and coaches he's got the moxie to bounce back and lead a Vol offense that's searching for an identity.

17. WR Robert Meachem, Tennessee – Meachem is a homerun hitter with enormous upside and natural gifts that can't be taught, but he was woefully inconsistent in 2005, catching just 29 passes and a pair of touchdowns. The Tennessee offense, in general, stunk, which didn't help his development, but Meachem, too, needs to polish up his act this fall. David Cutcliffe was brought back to fix the offense, and second to finding a quarterback, getting Meachem right will be a top priority beginning this spring.

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