Best of the decade: QBs

This article kicks off a series profiling Tennessee's best football players of the decade 2000-2009. Today's topic: quarterbacks.

1. CASEY CLAUSEN: Essentially a four-year starter (2000-2003), Clausen might've been truly special if he'd had better health and a better supporting cast. Ranking second to Peyton Manning on UT's career lists for yards (9,707) and TDs (75), Casey had the Vols one win from playing for the national title as a sophomore in 2001. Unfortunately, Clausen's legacy was marred a bit by two things that were not his fault - a gut-wrenching loss to LSU in the 2001 SEC Championship Game and a disappointing 2002 season. Crucial turnovers and defensive lapses - not Clausen - prompted the 31-20 loss to LSU in the '01 SEC title game. And injured ribs caused him to throw a career-low 11 TD passes in '02.

2. ERIK AINGE: After starting significant portions of 2004 and 2005, Ainge put a lock on the first-team job in 2006 and 2007. He completed a school-record 67.0 percent of his passes in '06, then threw for 3,522 yards and 31 TDs as a senior - numbers topped only by Manning's senior totals (3,819 yards and 36 TDs). Like Clausen, Ainge's memory is somewhat tarnished by an SEC Championship Game loss to LSU. He threw two fourth-quarter interceptions that fateful night in December of '07, helping seal the Tigers' 21-14 victory. Ainge went 27-10 as a starter, however, and ranks third all-time on UT's career lists for passing yards (8,700) and passing TDs (72).

3. JONATHAN CROMPTON: After starting once as a redshirt freshman in 2006 and six times as a junior in 2008, Crompton started all 13 games of 2009. He won exactly half of his 20 career starts. Rallying from a poor start last fall, he finished with a flourish. Crompton's stats for the first four games of '09 showed him averaging 161 passing yards, with 7 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. His numbers for the final nine games showed him averaging 214 yards, with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

4. RICK CLAUSEN: Casey's younger brother got off to a Cinderella beginning on The Hill. The LSU transfer guided Tennessee past Vanderbilt (38-33) and Kentucky (37-31) in his first two Vol starts and into the 2004 SEC Championship Game. After losing to Auburn in Atlanta, Clausen earned MVP honors in leading the Vols to a 38-7 Cotton Bowl drubbing of Texas A&M. The fairy tale continued when he came off the bench to rally the Vols to an overtime upset of fourth-ranked LSU in Game 3 of 2005. Clausen's charmed life ended at that point, however. His six starts as a senior in '05 produced a 1-5 record. His two-year stats at UT included a 58.3 completion percentage, 2,390 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

5. BRENT SCHAEFFER: He started just three games in his lone season on The Hill so there isn't a large body of work to evaluate. Still, he exhibited intriguing potential as a running/passing threat. In 2004 Schaeffer became the first true freshman ever to start a season opener as UT's quarterback. He wound up completing 7 of 10 passes for 123 yards and rushing seven times for another 29 yards that evening in a blowout of UNLV. He was 3-of-4 passing for 40 yards in a Game 2 defeat of Florida, with 38 rushing yards on seven carries. He surrendered the starting job to Ainge, however, after completing 3 of 7 for 50 yards and rushing four times for minus-10 yards in Game 3 vs. Louisiana Tech. Unwilling to be a backup or move to wide receiver, Schaeffer bolted at season's end after compiling 302 yards on 18-of-37 passing and 66 more yards on 33 rushes. Following a year in junior college, he struggled throughout an ill-fated stint at Ole Miss.

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