Ainge impressed with Hawaii QB

Tennessee's Erik Ainge can dream. He can dream about playing at Hawaii, where quarterback Colt Brennan put up some gaudy numbers. He can dream about passing 50 times a game. He can dream about playing for pass-happy coach June Jones on the beautiful island of Oahu.

Ainge actually had the chance to play for Hawaii but declined.

``Coach Jones knows my family pretty well and he recruited me hard to go there,'' Ainge said. ``Obviously, throwing 50 times a game would be awesome, but I don't think you can throw it 50 times a game in the SEC.''

Not if you want to win.

Only two Tennessee quarterbacks – Erik Ainge and Peyton Manning – have thrown more than 45 passes in a UT game and won.

``That kind of shows you you've got to have balance in the SEC,'' said Ainge, who averaged 31 passes in 11 games. ``You might be able to win a game doing that, but not enough to win a championship.''

Still, Ainge couldn't help but notice Brennan passing for an NCAA-record 58 touchdowns to go with over 5,900 total yards – an average of 425 per game. Ainge averaged 249 passing yards per game and fired 19 touchdown passes.

``I did that kind of stuff in high school,'' Ainge said of the Hawaii offense.

``What Colt did was unbelievable -- 559 yards and five touchdowns in one (bowl) game. Five (touchdowns) in the second half. That's amazing.''

Did Ainge watch with envy?

``Stats are fun and all that, but getting to play in the Outback Bowl and getting a chance to play on national TV every single week and playing against the players we play against in SEC – I'm not saying anything about Hawaii or who they play against,'' Ainge said. ``Don't take that the wrong way. Meanwhile, Cutcliffe said he'd never seen a quarterback improve more in one year than Ainge.

As a sophomore, Ainge completed 45 percent of his passes. As a junior, he set a school record by hitting 67 percent of his throws.

``It's a great tribute to him,'' Cutcliffe said. ``You have to humble yourself first to do that. He took a lot of hard coaching and critiquing. It's not easy for us as adults to take a lot of critiquing. It wasn't soft, either. It was pretty harsh. I thought he handled that well.

``That tells you about his character.''

But Cutcliffe still says Ainge is a work in progress. Cutcliffe wasn't happy with the way Ainge finished the season, with mediocre games against Kentucky and Penn State. Ainge wasn't the same after suffering an ankle injury against South Carolina, which might bring into question his mental toughness.

``We're not there yet,'' Cutcliffe said. ``I probably need to clue him in on this – you're never going to get there. It's a journey and it's going to remain a journey. I don't care if you're Tiger Woods, who is as successful as anybody in their sport. He (Woods) knows it's a journey. If he quits working, what's going to happen? There's a bunch of them (golfers) that will pass him by.

``That's the key for Erik right now -- to understand how hungry he's got to stay.''

He'll have to stay hungry in the face of potential adversity. The Vols lose their three top receivers – Robert Meachem, Jayson Swain and Bret Smith.

Lucas Taylor is the leading returning receiver with 14 catches. Josh Briscoe had five catches. Austin Rogers had five catches in three games before a season-ending injury. Quintin Hancock caught two passes in five games as a true freshman. Injury plagued Slick Shelley didn't catch a pass.

Those figure to be the top five wideouts this season.

Clearly, the Vols will rely quite a bit on the tight ends. Chris Brown caught 31 passes. Brad Cottam caught 14.

It will present a greater challenge for Ainge as he continues on his journey.

UT MERCHANDIZING

Tennessee's athletic department gets $525,000 annually in guaranteed merchandizing monies based on a deal signed with E Sports.

The University of Tennessee collects between $2-3 million from the Collegiate Licensing deal signed through Bill Battle's company.

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said, for example, if a fan buys a $50 football jersey from a store other than Tennessee Traditions, UT gets eight percent of the wholesale cost of the product. If the vendor spent $25 for the jersey, UT would get just over $2.

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton said their was a ``significant uptick'' in merchandizing after the 1998 national championship season and it's been at about the same plane since, even after the 5-6 season in 2005.

``In a given season, the number of home games, the number of star players and the performance on the field will have a bearing,'' Hamilton said.


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