How can The University of Tennessee expect students to focus on their new fall classes when the football team has yet to name a starting quarterback?
Seriously, this is a distraction. I propose for school to be postponed until coach Phillip Fulmer finds the guts to put confidence in his most talented option, freshman Brent Schaeffer.
This waiting game is even having an adverse effect on my appearance.
What hair I have left on my head is sure to fall out if Fulmer again chooses mediocre consistency (C.J. Leak) over obvious ability (Schaeffer).
Ten years have passed since Peyton Manning's freshman season at Tennessee. Manning did not start his first four games as a Vol.
UT suffered through a 1-3 start, including a 31-0 home loss to Florida.
When two veteran quarterbacks went down with injury that season, Manning earned the starting job and led the Vols to wins in seven of their last eight games (including a win over Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl). After he finished with a 39-6 career record as a starter, Tennessee named a street after him.
Many UT fans will argue that Manning wasn't ready to start the first half of his freshman campaign. However, it makes you wonder what the 1994 team could have accomplished had Fulmer taken a chance on Manning from the get-go.
It couldn't have been any worse.
Fast-forward to 2004.
Hopefully, ten years later Fulmer has the nerve to entrust an offense to a deserving 18-year-old phenom whose face resembles that of a pre-teenager.
Bring in "Little Vick."
Schaeffer earned his nickname in high school. As a senior at Deerfield Beach, Fla., he accumulated 575 yards on the ground (12 touchdowns) while throwing for 3,150 yards and 24 scores.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound athlete is battling for the starting job with fellow freshman Erik Ainge and bench veterans Leak and Rick Clausen.
Fulmer plans to give each of the prospects 25 snaps in tonight's scrimmage in Neyland Stadium.
I just want to watch Schaeffer. His instantaneous acceleration and ability to leave defenders on their heels makes me want to get out of bed to go watch practice.
I can't tell you much about Leak and Clausen. Their play put me to sleep before I got the chance to analyze them.
I woke up, though, when Schaeffer rolled out of the pocket, juked three Vol defenders and sprinted for a 45-yard score last week.
Okay, so the kid can run.
But the lefty who wears No. 7 (I'm starting to see the Michael Vick comparison here) has also produced the most exciting air game thus far in the preseason.
In Saturday's scrimmage, Schaeffer perfectly placed a 65-yard bomb in the sure hands of redshirt freshman receiver Robert Meachem.
Okay, so the kid also threw a couple interceptions.
He has a tendency to force throws into traffic, but at least he looks confident doing it. And at least he looks eager to add a little juice to a stagnant offense.
Although Schaeffer's freshman counterpart may have the strongest arm, Ainge seems to question his own abilities after making mistakes.
There is no question who I want to see take the field when the Vols host Florida in a few weeks.
Some hope to see Leak (who is currently No. 1 on the depth chart) square off with his younger brother, Chris, who enters his second season with the Gators as a Heisman hopeful.
Trust me, Tennessee does not have the better Leak. It appears their parents saved their playmaking genes for Chris.
Fulmer said he has given less reps in practice to Leak because he already knows what the sixth-year senior can do.
More like what he can't do.
As for Schaeffer, I'm convinced he must be Vick's long-lost cousin.
Remember what Vick did in his first season at the helm of Virginia Tech's offense?
As a redshirt freshman, he single-handedly led the Hokies to the national championship game against Florida State. Even though his team lost, he put on the most memorable show in a title game since I started watching college football.
Schaeffer is not yet Vick, but he is a show waiting to debut.
Although he's shy in front of the media, he's anything but that on the field.
But Fulmer is in charge of the spotlight. And right now he doesn't know where to shine it.
The coaches plan to trim the list of starting quarterback prospects to three after tonight's scrimmage.
Why hold out?
Give the obvious talent the confidence early and watch him grow.
Schaeffer is bound to make mistakes along the way. But the only way for him to learn is give him the chance to make those mistakes.
I don't want to be left with "what-ifs" after the safe-choice Leak leads the Vols to a 1-3 start.
The fall semester has started. Tennessee needs a starting quarterback.
It needs to be Schaeffer.
- Matt Giles is the sports editor of The Daily Beacon and a senior in journalism. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schaeffer should be Vols' starting QB
Published: Wed Aug 18, 2004 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 06:16 p.m.