Erik Ainge looked like a future Maxwell Award winner as a Vol rookie, completing 55.1 percent of his passes for 1,452 yards and 17 touchdowns, with just nine interceptions. He compiled an excellent 135.89 passer efficiency rating and was named second-team Freshman All-America by Sporting News.
Ainge suffered the mother of all sophomore jinxes in 2005, however. His completion percentage dropped by nearly 10 points (to 45.5). His passing yardage was cut nearly in half (to 737). He threw 12 fewer touchdown passes and saw his passer efficiency rating plummet to 89.94.
Ainge's poor play last fall was a factor in the resignation of 2005 offensive coordinator Randy Sanders. The subsequent return of Cutcliffe, who coached Heath Shuler, Peyton Manning and Tee Martin during his previous stint as UT's coordinator (1993-98), has many fans believing Ainge will bounce back in 2006. The Maxwell folks apparently agree with that assessment.
Whereas Ainge's inclusion on the 60-man watch list for the Maxwell Award is somewhat surprising, Harrell's inclusion in the field for the Bednarik Award is not.
Harrell emerged from the shadow of fellow tackle Jesse Mahelona last fall to earn second-team All-SEC recognition. The 6-4, 300-pound senior from Martin recorded 21 tackles and 18 assists last fall. He was third among UT players in quarterback hurries (9), fourth in tackles for loss (7.5) and fourth in sacks (2.5). He forced two fumbles, batted five passes and intercepted two more, returning one for a touchdown.
No Vol has ever won the Bednarik Award. Only one Vol has won the Maxwell Award – quarterback Peyton Manning in 1997. This is the 70th year of the Maxwell Award, the 12th year of the Bednarik Award.