Here's a reminder:
- After a 1-3 start in 1994, Tennessee handed the reins to freshman Peyton Manning. He won seven of eight starts the rest of the way, including a smashing 45-23 beat-down of Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
- With the QB picture completely muddled in 2004, Tennessee handed the reins to freshman Brent Schaeffer. He went 3-0 before being replaced by fellow freshman Erik Ainge, who went 4-2 in six starts before being injured.
Do the math: Manning, Clausen, Schaeffer and Ainge went a combined 20-4 as freshman starters. Meanwhile, the '94, '00 and '04 teams went a combined 7-7 with non-freshman QBs starting.
Whether Bray could achieve the kind of first-year success Manning, Clausen, Schaeffer and Ainge did is debatable, of course. But his situation is remarkably similar to the one encountered by Ainge just a few seasons ago.
Bray's competition for the first-team job consists of two junior college transfers (Matt Simms, Nick Lamaison), plus a fellow freshman (Nash Nance). Ainge's competition in 2004 consisted of two transfers (Rick Clausen from LSU, C.J. Leak from Wake Forest) and a fellow freshman (Schaeffer). Ainge didn't start the '04 opener but worked his way into the lineup by Game 4 and stayed there until suffering a season-ending shoulder injury vs. Notre Dame in Game 9.
Ainge didn't have the benefit of spring practice in '04 but Bray did in 2010. That gives him experience in Tennessee's offense that could prove invaluable. Further helping Bray's cause is the fact none of his rivals has thrown a pass at Tennessee, either. Simms was 4 of 10 for 39 years as a freshman at Louisville but two factors render that accomplishment virtually meaningless: One, it was two years ago. Two, it was mop-up duty.
Bray generally performed well in Tennessee's spring scrimmages. He completed 8 of 13 passes for 69 yards in the first, 10 of 19 for 86 yards in the second and 18 of 40 for 200 yards in the Orange & White Game. His cumulative stats for the three major scrimmages show him completing 36 of 72 passes (50.0 percent) for 355 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
The 6-6, 210-pounder from Kingsburg, Calif., finished spring practice slightly behind Simms but the battle will resume in August. Even if the strong-armed rookie can't win the top job in preseason camp, he's almost certain to get significant playing time in the season ahead.
Bottom line: Tyler Bray projects to be a key figure for the Vols this fall. He clearly has the arm strength and talent to play quarterback in the SEC as a freshman. Whether he has the savvy and poise remains to be seen.
Peyton Manning did. So did Casey Clausen, Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge.