Tyler Bray, Tauren Poole & The SEC Leaderboard

We've spent the better part of fall camp trying to figure out exactly what Tennessee's offense is going to look like this fall, and of course, we're still just guessing.  In fact, if the Vols are able to go vanilla and beat Montana and Cincinnati, I'm fine with still not having a good idea what the offense looks like in mid-September, because that means Florida won't either.

We've looked at the need for balance, and tried to figure out whether the Vols will find it via the run game or a short passing game.  We're all assuming the Vols aren't going to just throw it deep every play, which is probably a safe assumption, but you never know...

Still, Tennessee has talent and experience in both the passing and running game that will have a chance to make some noise this fall, depending on how Jim Chaney wants to call it.  Both Tyler Bray and Tauren Poole were largely ignored on preseason All-SEC ballots...but is that a product of better talent on other SEC campuses, or are they genuinely underrated because they play for what's been a downtrodden Tennessee program?

How good can Bray and Poole be in this offense, whatever it looks like?  And could either make a push to lead the league in their respective categories?  After the jump, we'll take a look at the other candidates in the league, and then ask: 

(both lists are ranked in order of returning passing/rushing yards per game leaders from 2010)

Quarterbacks

  • Aaron Murray, Georgia - 234.5 ypg.  Murray would probably be voted as the SEC quarterback most likely to succeed in the NFL.  He's got a full year of experience under his belt and had an amazing 24-8 TD-INT ratio as a true freshman.  An argument against Aaron Murray isn't based on what kind of player he is, but who the players are around him.  Last year the Dawgs didn't throw a ton - Murray only attempted more than 30 passes three times, including the overtime game with Florida - but even if you assume they're going to sling it more without Caleb King and Washaun Ealey around, who's going to catch it?  A.J. Green missed the first four games of the season and still caught 25 more passes than anyone else on the team and 30 more passes than anyone who returns this year.  The only returning players who averaged more than a catch per game are Tavarres King and Orson Charles.  Then again, they both caught more passes last year than anyone who will wear a Tennessee uniform this fall.
  • Stephen Garcia, South Carolina - 218.5 ypg.  Garcia is always a wild card, but should be good to go in week one barring any additional off the field endeavors.  Garcia will also throw to the best receiver in the league.  His chances of winning the league's passing crown are hampered by the fact that he'll hand off to the league's leading returning rusher (now that Knile Davis is out) - more on him in a minute.  As you can see, Garcia's number isn't really that high to begin with, but last year only two SEC quarterbacks (Ryan Mallett and Mike Hartline) threw for more than 235 yards per game.
  • John Brantley, Florida - 158.5 ypg.  There are certainly plenty of questions about this guy, but the answers at this point depend on how much you believe in Charlie Weis.  But even if Brantley is every bit of the great pro-style quarterback he was made out to be coming out of high school, and even if Weis has a huge positive impact on him as a player, the Gators will still be running an offense with personnel that aren't ideally suited for it.  Who's the go-to receiver on this team?
Then there are the unknowns:  I'll throw A.J. McCarron out there because he plays for Alabama, but this year that should involve mostly handing the ball off to Trent Richardson.  Has an Alabama quarterback ever led the league in passing?

Then there's the real threat:  Tyler Wilson at Arkansas, who went 25 of 34 for 332 yards and 4 TDs (plus a pair of interceptions) in two and a half quarters at Auburn last fall.  Auburn's pass defense was statistically disastrous, but they still won the National Championship...and plus, that's a nice day at the office in just over thirty minutes of football.  And now he's going to lead an offense that just lost its big running threat.  Bobby Petrino knows how to sling it.

If you take Tyler Bray's five starts plus the second half of the South Carolina game and divide the yardage by 5.5, Bray put up 310 yards per game.  Of course, using the same fuzzy math Wilson put up more than 500 yards per game.  Given the competition and the numbers from last season, it may not take something crazy for Tyler Bray to be at or near the top of the passing leaderboard.

Running Backs
  • Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina - 92.1 ypg.  It's strange to say, but only two players averaged more than 100 yards per game last fall, and one of them was Cam Newton (Knile Davis being the other).  Lattimore would've been in that group if not for this hit in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, leaving him on the books with one carry for -1 yards.  Before that, Lattimore averaged 108.9 yards per game, which would've beaten out Cam Newton to lead the SEC.  This guy is a beast.
  • Vick Ballard, Mississippi State - 81.8 ypg.  Ballard didn't really get going until the second half of the 2010 season; he averaged just 9.8 carries in MSU's first six games, then got 21.3 carries per game from there.  So if he gets a similar number for the entire 2011 season, he could challenge the backs with bigger names for the league title.  He had a tendency to get shut down at times, averaging less than three yards per carry against Auburn, LSU, and a shocking 22 carries for 43 yards against the mighty Ole Miss defense.  But if the Bulldogs can find enough offense elsewhere to make defenses not focus on him, Ballard could really shine this fall.
  • Brandon Bolden, Ole Miss - 81.3 ypg.  Joining Poole as one of the SEC's most overlooked backs, Bolden is even more under the radar because no one expects Ole Miss to improve as much as the Vols this season.  Bolden averaged almost six yards per carry last season, but only got 13.6 carries per game.  He's bound to see more than that this fall.
  • Michael Dyer, Auburn - 78.1 ypg.  No Cam Newton should mean a ton of work for Dyer.  Last year you never knew how often Auburn would go to him - he got less than ten carries in six games - but he also dropped 22 carries for 143 yards on Oregon in the National Championship game.  In Gus Malzahn's offense the ball will get spread around, but this kid can play.
  • Trent Richardson, Alabama - 63.6 ypg.  Uh, that number's gonna go up.  Last year Mark Ingram got 158 carries to Richardson's 112.  Especially breaking in a new quarterback, Richardson could get every single one of Ingram's carries on top of everything he got last year (which would still just be 20.7 carries per game) and still look for more.  If he and Lattimore get a similar number of touches, it'll be interesting to see who comes out on top.
Where does Tauren Poole fit in here?  Poole averaged 79.5 ypg last season, a number that's hampered by the sixteen combined carries he had against Florida and UAB when he was banged up.  If you take those two away and just look at his numbers when healthy, Poole averaged 89.8 ypg.  But that number is hampered by the game that keeps making me wonder about this offense going forward, because the last image we saw of the Vol offense (against its toughest competition) was 45 pass attempts for Tyler Bray, and just 11 carries for 40 yards for Poole in the Music City Bowl.

Could Poole be one of the best backs in the league?  We don't have the evidence to suggest that he's in the Lattimore/Richardson conversation for the top spot in the SEC, but I think he's easily in that next tier.  The more opportunities the Vols give him, the more he'll have a chance to prove his worth (and potentially make some NFL money).

But that again is the question - what's the run/pass ratio going to be for this team?  I fully expect Tyler Bray to dominate this poll.  I'm just not sure if that's a good thing for Tennessee's offense.
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