Behold the power of the narrative.
Four of the top six passers in the SEC graduated, and one of the remaining two plays for Kentucky. Four of the five highest ranked SEC teams in the coaches' poll are replacing their quarterback, and the fifth is in the midst of an open competition in Baton Rouge. In this league right now there's Dak Prescott, and then there's white space.
Some are predicting system guys to fill that void, the names we've seen like Kyle Allen and the ones we assume like Jeremy Johnson. Some default to Maty Mauk, who's had his parking validated at the Georgia Dome two years in a row. Others to Brandon Allen, who leads a team ranked even higher than Mizzou. But neither will be the focal point of the offenses they'll manage.
And so the name with the most recognition after Prescott right now has started just nine games for a program that hasn't won eight games in eight years. And yet, when you combine the void of experience at quarterback in the SEC with the brief flashes we saw last year, and throw in a unique and engaging academic story, you don't just get a potential All-SEC quarterback. You get the 16h best odds to win the Heisman Trophy.
The last time Tennessee reached the heights it hopes to attain this season, Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy. He started the season as a more proven Heisman candidate than starting quarterback, but his play and his narrative quickly took hold in one of the wildest college football seasons of the BCS era. I think we're all aware a quarterback from Tennessee is never going to win the Heisman. But there's a buzz about Dobbs that comes from more than just what he's done on the field. Have you heard Josh Dobbs is an aerospace engineering major? Did you know Brian Williams has lost weight and Emmanuel Negedu speaks five languages?
Who Dobbs is and what he pursues off the field is a benefit to Tennessee, both the football program and the university. This part of the narrative gives Dobbs that something extra, a story all parties involved will be eager to tell. Dobbs is also positioned to be the guy at the helm when Tennessee gets to the proverbial "back". In his opportunity to do so, he has a chance to be loved and then remembered by all who wear orange in a special way. You have to be gone to need to get back; Dobbs' chance to be part of the redemptive story here gives him an opportunity guys like Heath Shuler and Peyton Manning didn't have. Dobbs can be more in the Tony Robinson or Andy Kelly mold, quarterbacks who achieved far less personal success (to be fair, so has 99.9% of the quarterback population compared to Manning) but are remembered just as long and in some ways even more fondly, because they were the guys who took Tennessee back to the mountaintop. Or, for our younger readers, Dobbs could be the first guy to do it.
But for the story to find its happy ending, Tennessee has to actually get there. And one of the most important questions for the Vols' ability to do just that centers on Dobbs' ability to move from good to great.
We mentioned Jeremy Johnson and Kyle Allen up there because Auburn and A&M have done it well enough long enough now for us to believe whoever lines up for them is going to produce. Perhaps Tennessee's offense will explode under Dobbs and then Dormardy or Jones or Guarantano, and then we can start assuming as well. But because we haven't seen what a Butch Jones offense can do at full strength, questions remain. And because we'd never seen something like what Dobbs did at South Carolina last year, our excitement about the answers centers on his shoulders.
The good news is, Dobbs isn't looking to ascend a year or two ahead of his teammates. This isn't at all a good quarterback on a bad team situation. If the Vol offense arrives by consistently doing what it did to South Carolina and Iowa, it will arrive together with two stud running backs, a plethora of wide receivers, and - in the one offensive question more important than this one - a much-improved offensive line.
So, how can we measure progress for our junior quarterback? Last year Dobbs didn't get enough snaps to qualify for many of the SEC's passing leaderboards, but you would've found his numbers here:
- Completion Percentage: 63.3%, 3rd
- Yards Per Attempt: 6.8, 9th
- TD/INT ratio: 1.5, 11th
- Total Offense Per Game: 279 ypg, 2nd