In an attempt to place what we saw from Tyler Bray on Saturday in the pantheon of great UT passing performances, here's one man's opinion on the best of the best. There's no formula here, though I will say quality of opponent certainly counts. And I'm only dealing with what I've seen, so with apologies to Condredge Holloway and Tony Robinson, the nominees start with Andy Kelly, a time period that includes the vast majority of UT's passing game records. And yes, only wins count. As always, feel free to agree or disagree in the comments.
10. Jonathan Crompton vs Georgia, 2009
This one gets the extra wow factor because absolutely no one saw it coming. Crompton, who would've only made this list as a joke in any other previous start, suddenly unloaded on the Dawgs with 20 of 27 for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Tennessee routed Georgia 45-19 in a game that made us all believe in Lane Kiffin, then was swept away by Kiffin's departure. But in the moment, this was truly something to behold.
9. Peyton Manning at Arkansas, 1995
The coming out party: 35 of 46 for 384 yards and four touchdowns on the road in Fayetteville. The Vols won 49-31 the week before they turned the Tide, a game that narrowly misses this list (20 of 29 for 301) just because the numbers weren't quite as high.
8. Tyler Bray vs Cincinnati, 2011
Bray was as good against a sub-par defense as anyone to ever wear a Tennessee uniform. If Tennessee keeps playing like that, he'll have plenty of other opportunities to put his name on this list again. This was similar to what Erik Ainge did against Air Force in 2006, except Bray threw (and completed) more passes for more yards.
7. Peyton Manning vs Georgia, 1997
The Jim Donnan Handshake Refusal Game. The senior Manning, when he wasn't handing off to Jamal Lewis, led an absolute beatdown with 31 of 40 for 343 yards and four touchdowns, including a late one for the final 38-13 margin that upset the Dawgs' head coach. This total combined with Jamal's 232 rushing yards is by far the greatest one-two punch in UT history.
6. Peyton Manning at Georgia, 1996
Manning's own personal display of the ridiculous. This game included Manning's QB-sneak-turned-touchdown-pass, and was incredibly similar to his stat line against the Dawgs the following year: 31 of 41 for 371 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
5. Peyton Manning vs Northwestern, 1996
In the Citrus Bowl in what many believed would be his farewell performance, Manning went 27 of 39 for 408 yards and four touchdowns, plus a fifth on a bootleg. It is the third highest total in UT history; the second came in the Vols' 1996 loss to the Gators.
4. Casey Clausen vs Michigan, 2001
The epilogue to Tennessee's most dominant era from 1995-2001, Iceman went 26 of 34 for 393 yards and three touchdowns in UT's highly enjoyable 45-17 beatdown of Michigan. Clausen completed ten straight passes at one point as the Vols pulled away in the Citrus Bowl.
3. Tee Martin at South Carolina, 1998
The numbers say it all: 23 of 24 for 315 yards and four touchdowns, setting an NCAA record for consecutive completions. Martin had his struggles in 1998, but this was an incredible game for his confidence, proving that Tennessee could do more than run with Travis & Travis.
2. Peyton Manning at Kentucky, 1997
The record duel with Tim Couch saw Manning throw for 523 yards on just 25 of 35, good for five touchdowns. This was, at the time, the second highest total in SEC history. The only reason it's not number one is the quality of the opponent - how bad was Kentucky to allow 21 yards per completion?
1. Peyton Manning vs Auburn, 1997
Two weeks later in the SEC Championship Game, manning put on what I consider to be the best passing performance in the history of this university. The numbers are solid: 373 yards and four touchdowns. But it was what Manning had to overcome: six Tennessee turnovers, including five fumbles and a deflected interception. And it was the moment: the first SEC Championship Game for UT, a chance to play for the National Championship still alive, everything on the line. Whenever people used to say Manning never one the big one, I always pointed them here.