A Freshman Starting QB? Meh. Vols Are Used To It


So, true freshman quarterback Justin Worley is going to step behind center and take the Big Orange reins as the starter against home-state South Carolina on Saturday...

Yawn.

Oh, don't get me wrong. Starting the 6-foot-4, 200-pound signal-caller against a vulnerable Gamecocks team at Neyland Stadium may inject a little life in a draining season that still has a few drops of hope pooled at the bottom. It's just that, you know, starting a freshman quarterback is SOOOO 1994 for the Vols.

Worley's start will mark the ninth time UT has played a freshman at one of the most demanding positions in all of sports [including seven true freshmen] during the past 17 years since the standard for all Vols quarterbacks, Peyton Manning, took the field against Washington State. We scratched up the statistics to see how those youngsters fared, and special thanks to John Painter at UT sports information for filling the many gaps the Internet couldn't.

Oct. 1, 1994 PEYTON MANNING vs. Washington State. A legend's modest beginning consisted of a 10-9 win against an eventual 8-4 Pac-10 foe after UT started the year 1-3, but Manning completed only 7-of-14 passes for 79 yards and neither a touchdown or an interception. Still, it was a quality win and the first of many for the best Vols quarterback ever.

Sept. 16, 2000 A.J. SUGGS vs. Florida. Suggs was a redshirt freshman when he faced the daunting task of trying to beat the No. 6-ranked Gators at Neyland. The Powder Springs, Ga., quarterback all but did. UF needed a controversial, ahem, catch by Jabar Gaffney with 14 seconds remaining to beat No. 11 Tennessee 27-23 and lead Steve Spurrier to say "No question, God was smiling on us because the other team outplayed us." I stood directly on the goal line waiting to do interviews with a front-row seat of the non-catch. Suggs finished 17-of-29 for 140 yards and an interception.

Oct. 21, 2000 CASEY CLAUSEN vs. Alabama. I covered this game too -- a 20-10 victory for UT's sixth-consecutive win over the Tide in the series. The cocky California true freshman replaced Suggs as the starter after a preseason arm injury forced him to shut it down through the first half of the season and led the Vols back to a .500 record, completing 17-of -24 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He threw no interceptions and helped the Vols jump out to a 10-0 halftime lead.

Nov. 16, 2002 JAMES BANKS vs. Mississippi State. With Clausen sidelined with another injury and the Vols having lost three of their past four games and needing to reel off a win, UT turned to the true freshman athlete out of Indianapolis. In a swirling Starkville wind, the Vols ran the ball 64 times for 232 yards, and Banks managed 3-of-8 passing for 90 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions in a 35-17 win. He went on to make some big plays at receiver for UT, but his career ended prematurely because of off-the-field transgressions.

Sept. 5, 2004 BRENT SCHAEFFER vs. UNLV. The Vols won 42-17 as Schaeffer remarkably became the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener in the SEC since Georgia's John Rauch in 1945. The dual-threat QB finished 7-of-10 for 123 yards and a touchdown. He also ran seven times for 29 yards and another touchdown. Schaeffer was replaced by Ainge a month later and wound up transferring to junior college and winding up at Ole Miss where he helmed the hilarious Ed Orgeron years.

Oct. 2, 2004 ERIK AINGE vs. Auburn. Though he had performed excellently off the bench prior to this game and went on to have an exceptional freshman season that was cut short due to injury, Ainge ran into a buzzsaw against an Auburn team that was ranked eighth and wouldn't lose a single game that year. He finished 17-of-35 for 173 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions in a 34-10 Tigers win.

Nov. 11, 2006 JONATHAN CROMPTON vs. Arkansas. After Ainge limped around the field for two series in a heartbreaking loss the week before to LSU, Phillip Fulmer named redshirt freshman quarterback Crompton the starter as UT traveled to Fayetteville to take on the 11th-ranked Razorbacks. Though Crompton handled himself well against the Tigers the week before, he was swarmed in a 31-14 loss at Arkansas. Crompton finished 16-of-34 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked four times.

Nov. 6, 2010 TYLER BRAY vs. Memphis. Playing against one of the worst defenses in the country, Bray flashed some of his budding skills, finishing 19-of-33 for 325 yards and five touchdowns without throwing an interception. The Vols beat the Tigers 50-14 for the first of a string of four wins to get bowl-eligible.

Oct. 29, 2011 JUSTIN WORLEY vs. South Carolina. Let's hope the Gatorade National Player of the Year can make UT freshman quarterbacks 6-3 in these nine first-time starts. An average statistical performance based on the above information would look like this: 11-18 140 yds 2 TDs and a pick. I'll take it -- if a W comes along with it.

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