I've been following Big Orange football for 40 years and I've been covering the Vols for much of that time. I haven't seen all of the players I'm rating but I've seen enough to offer a reasonably legitimate opinion. Will anyone agree with my rankings? I seriously doubt it. But that's fine. The great thing about lists is that they stir debate. Hopefully, the lists I'll be posting in the days ahead will stir plenty of debate among UT fans everywhere.
I'm limiting the scope of this exercise to the years 1964 –2004 because (1) the Vols played single-platoon football prior to 1964 and (2) last year's players were excluded since their performances are too fresh in my mind.
That said, we'll start with my ratings at quarterback. Picks 6 through 10 are listed below. Picks 1 through 5 will be posted a little later. That'll give you time to do some speculating.
10. JEFF FRANCIS: He wasn't mobile and he certainly wasn't flashy but Francis probably maximized his strengths as well as any UT quarterback ever. A three-year starter, he ranks fourth on the Vols' all-time passing list with 5,867 yards. His 62.0 completion percentage is second all-time to Peyton Manning and he never completed less than 60 percent in a single season. Bright and poised, Francis had the misfortune to close out his career with a 1988 team that lost its first six games and wound up 5-6. He is now the sideline reporter on Vol football broadcasts.
9. ANDY KELLY: When your successors are Heath Shuler and Peyton Manning, it's easy to be forgotten. But Kelly was a fine QB in his own right. He started for three years and still ranks third on UT's all-time passing list with 6,397 yards. He threw for 2,759 yards in 1991, setting a single-season record that stood until Manning broke it four years later. Kelly would've thrown for more yards if he hadn't spent so much time handing the ball to Reggie Cobb and Chuck Webb. Kelly has gone on to an incredibly productive career in Arena Football.
8. DEWEY WARREN: How good was "The Swamp Rat"? Entering the 1966 season UT's school record for single-season passing yards was 588. Warren nearly TRIPLED that, throwing for 1,716 yards in '66. He also threw for 18 touchdowns that fall, more than doubling the previous single-season record of 8. Freshmen were ineligible in those days and his senior season was sidetracked by injuries, yet Warren still ranks 10th on UT's all-time passing list with 3,357 yards. He basically ushered Tennessee into the passing age.
7. CASEY CLAUSEN: The epitome of "California Cool," Clausen's laid-back approach bothered some fans. He was an intense competitor, however, who played hurt. Ironically, this had a negative impact on his statistics and his popularity. The bottom line is that Clausen was remarkably productive. A four-year starter, he ranks second only to Manning in career yards (9,707), career TDs (65), career attempts (1,270) and career completions (775). He was virtually unbeatable on the road, too, winning 14 of his 15 starts on foreign soil.
6. BOBBY SCOTT: The numbers don't begin to tell the story on this guy. Scott completed just 47.4 percent of his passes in two seasons as the starting QB but he threw for 3,371 yards and 32 touchdowns. He guided the 1969 and '70 Vols to 20 wins in 23 games, an SEC co-championship, a Sugar Bowl victory and a No. 4 national ranking. He then embellished his legacy by spending 12 years as a backup with the NFL's New Orleans Saints.