Riley Ferguson’s departure from the Vols does not affect the nature of this article nor is it the catalyst. What Riley did is done. Move on.
So how do the Vols stack up against the conference this season at quarterback versus this same time last year?
Entering the 2013 season (last season) this would have been the ranking in descending order for returning and or projected starting quarterbacks in the SEC based on prior year passing yards:
1: Aaron Murray (Georgia) 3,893 yards
2: Johnny Manziel (TAMU) 3,706 (plus a ton of rushing yards)
3: Bo Wallace (Ole Miss) 2,994
4: A.J. McCarron (Alabama) 2,933
5: Tyler Russell (Miss St) 2,897
6: Zach Mettenberger (LSU) 2,609
7: Connor Shaw (South Carolina) 1,956 (and more rushing yards to add)
8: Jeff Driskel (Florida) 1,646
9: James Franklin (Missouri) 1,562 (missed several games in 2012)
The next tier begins a more dramatic drop off
10: Malcolm Smith (Kentucky) 975
11: Kiehl Frazier (Auburn) 753 (we will learn the Tigers went in a totally different and profitable direction)
12: Austyn Carta-Samuels (Vandy) 208 (Does not include stats earned as a starter at Wyoming)
13: Brandon Allen (Arkansas) 186
14: Justin Worley (Tenn) 134
The point of this list is simply to remind Vol fans that at least from a comparative perspective, UT did not line up well at QB for preseason 2013. The Vols had no game experience outside of Worley. That inauspicious title falls to Kentucky in 2014.
Many competitors on the list have graduated or entered the NFL draft after last season. While Butch Jones is still publicly not settled on a starter for the upcoming 2014 season, let’s be reminded where the Vols rank comparatively this year. 6 of the top 7 from the 2013 season do not return. However, it should be noted that only 3 of the 7 were on the Vols schedule last year and Tennessee beat one of those teams (Gamecocks)
The 2014 list will be sorted the same as before (returners or projected starters in descending order of prior year passing yards. This list is noticeably not as daunting as the previous year at first glance.
1: Bo Wallace (Ole Miss) 3,356 (3 year starter and on UT’s schedule for 2014)
2: Nick Marshall (Auburn) 1,976 (Not on UT’s schedule this year)
3: Dak Prescott (Miss State) 1,940 (Not on UT’s schedule this year)
4: Brandon Allen (Arkansas) 1,552 (Not on UT’s schedule this year)
5: Justin Worley (Tenn) 1,239
6: Matty Mauk (Mizzou) 1,071 (Started several games last year for injured James Franklin)
7: Hutson Mason (Georgia) 968 (Started for the injured Aaron Murray at the end of the 2013 season. Beat Kentucky and Ga Tech/ Lost to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl)
8: Dylan Thompson (South Carolina) 783 (Threw for more than 1,000 yards in 2012, however)
9: Joshua Dobbs (Tenn) 695
10: Patton Robinette (Vandy) 642 (Beat Tennessee late last year but may not be the projected starter for 2014)
11: Jeff Driskel (Florida) 477 (Injured very early in the Tennessee game and missed most of the 2013 season)
· Alabama: May start Florida State transfer, Jacob Coker, who got stuck behind Jameis Winston. Coker played sparingly in two seasons and threw for 250 yards in 2013.
· Texas A&M: Gone is Johnny Football. TAMU also may try the true freshman route with 5 star, Kyle Allen.
· Vandy: As I mentioned above, Robinette returns with some valuable game experience but with a new coach, the ‘Dores may try 4 star red shirt freshman, Johnny McCrary.
· Kentucky: Will start from scratch as the Cats have no game experience on their roster. Of interest to Chattanooga fans, Signal Mtn product, Reese Phillips may get the start.
On the surface, The Vols appear to be in a much better place relatively speaking than they were a year ago. That said Tennessee still enters fall practice without a firm QB. I think it will be Worley’s to lose, but a year of maturity from Joshua Dobbs could be a difference maker. In the end, UT should benefit from a solid game and field manager as it appears there may be more talent on the field at skill positions this year. However, the Vols QB will still have to make some key plays during the game to succeed against the higher echelon teams.
Last season every SEC opponent the Vols faced was a returning starter except for Auburn. By then however, Marshall, was well on his way to a great season.