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Josh Dobbs’ Legacy, Now and Later

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As training camp begins expectations are through the roof for Team 120 with much of the hype focused on quarterback Joshua Dobbs, entering his second full season as the undisputed starter. Wins and nothing else will cement Dobbs' legacy, but that does not mean conversations are not happening all across Tennessee concerning Dobbs' rank among UT quarterbacks. For the sake of limiting the discussion, let’s see where Dobbs fits among Vols quarterbacks of the last quarter-century.

Statistically, Dobbs will likely become the greatest dual-threat quarterback in Vols history, with only 38 yards and five rushing touchdowns to surpass Jimmy Streater. In the passing game – I refuse to write "throw game" – Dobbs’ need for improvement has been well-documented, but you might not realize how close he is to some of the UT greats that loom large in our memories. So where does Dobbs rank now, in terms of his legacy, and where he could be?

Peyton Manning clearly stands alone without question as the GOAT. Casey Clausen will forever be revered in Knoxville for his leadership and clutch performances, to say nothing of his hold on the second-place spot in the career record book for a number of passing categories. Erik Ainge and Tyler Bray hold down lasting reputations as gun-slingers with the stats to boot. Ainge’s career translated into wins and a trip to the SEC Championship game, whereas Bray’s career was marked by a volatile coaching situation and unfulfilled promise. Dobbs will likely never break into the top four top slots of any passing category currently held by the aforementioned group.

So who is Dobbs’ closest comparison at this stage in his career?

Consider the comparison with Heath Shuler and Tee Martin through roughly the same number of games.

As already mentioned, Dobbs is a superior runner compared to nearly every Vols quarterback, including these two stalwarts.

Rushing Statistics

Shuler 383 yards 14 rushing TDs 2.4 yards per carry (ypc)
Martin 614 yards 16 rushing TDs 3.0 ypc
Dobbs 1329 yards 20 rushing TDs 4.6 ypc

The passing statistics, though, are remarkably similar, as is how valuable each player was to their respective teams in terms of total touchdowns.

Passing Statistics

Shuler 4089 yds 36 TD-12 INT 8.3 yards per attempt (ypa) 61.6 comp. % 50 Total TDs
Martin 4592 yds 32 TD-16 INT 7.8 ypa 55.4 % 48 Total TDs
Dobbs 4192 yds 26 TD-17 INT 6.5 ypa 60.6 % 46 Total TDs

Offenses have clearly advanced since Shuler and Martin’s playing days. Dobbs has schematic advantages that the other two never enjoyed. Dobbs enjoys more designed runs, as well as shorter throws than did either Shuler or Martin. The latter two would be scary in Butch Jones' offense. Still, we can judge quarterbacks, in part, by their statistical rankings within the conference. Shuler’s individual accomplishments, specifically his 1993 campaign, will be remembered as one of the great seasons for a Vol quarterback in which he finished second in the Heisman Trophy race, was named SEC Player of the Year, and led the SEC in completion percentage, passing touchdowns, passing efficiency rating and total touchdowns. By comparison, Dobbs has not finished higher than fifth in any of those categories. Tee Martin…well, you know, he won the big one in 1998, and even ranked in the top three in the SEC in total yards, total touchdowns, rushing touchdowns (1999), and passing touchdowns (1998).

But football is more than stats. Wins matter, and Shuler and Martin were winners. Here are their starting records, not taking into account each quarterback's supporting casts, which obviously contributes to their respective records.

Starting records

Overall W-L-T Win % Record v. Top 25
Shuler 18-5-1 .750 5-3-1
Martin 22-3 .880 9-2
Dobbs 14-8 .636 2-5

So what if Dobbs and Team 120 have the kind of year we expect them to have? In other words, what if Dobbs merely matches his passing statistics from his first full year as a starter (2291 passing yards and 15 touchdowns) and leads the team to 10+ wins, and an SEC championship or more? Then the Dobbs legacy is cemented as a probable top-five quarterback in many statistical categories, likely surpassing Andy Kelly's 6397 career passing yards and Shuler, Kelly and Jonathan Crompton's mark for career touchdowns (36). Add to those passing accomplishments the potential for Dobbs to surpass 2000 yards in career rushing yards along with numerous individual awards. If Dobbs hoists a trophy in Atlanta or Tampa, then we are discussing him in rarefied air among some of the Vols greatest.

This scenario would be a stellar and fitting finish for the kid from Alpharetta.