Anytime a college football program breaks in a new quarterback, the anticipation and anxiety of its fan base rises accordingly. A brief review of UT history helps explain why.
You just don't know what you might get. For example, take the last 20 years.
There have been hits and misses. And one of the hits was a home run.
In 1998, the Vols went from quarterback Peyton Manning to an unproven Tee Martin. All Martin did in his first season as a starter was lead the Vols to an unbeaten season and a national championship.
Granted, the transition wasn't as smooth as the final record and ranking suggested. Martin was ineffective passing in his first few starts. Fortunately for UT, he had a powerful supporting cast to help carry him through those early games. But even before Martin's passing picked up, he established himself as a leader and a playmaker.
Ten years later, no one should expect new quarterback Jonathan Crompton to lead the Vols to another national title. Nor should anyone expect the turmoil that has followed other UT quarterback changes in the last 20 years. Three different times, the new quarterback lost the starting job he won in preseason.
That shouldn't happen with Crompton. Like Martin, he has too much going for him.
He has proven players at almost every position on offense. So he won't have to carry the offense.
Crompton has attributes of his own. His arm is strong enough and he has demonstrated accuracy in preseason scrimmages. Moreover, he's more mobile than his predecessor, Erik Ainge, or Casey Clausen, who preceded Ainge.
He also has more experience than any other new UT quarterback since Jerry Colquitt succeeded Heath Shuler in 1994. I realize that's not saying much. Martin rarely played behind Manning. Clausen, Ainge and Manning started as freshmen. But you can't dismiss the fact that when subbing for an injured Ainge in 2006, Crompton threw touchdown passes in a 28-24 loss to LSU, which had one of the best defenses in the country.
You couldn't have handled that situation as well as Crompton did without plenty of confidence. His confidence was evident before that, when he committed to UT even though freshmen Ainge and Brent Schaeffer were playing like future All-SEC quarterbacks.
Other quarterbacks in Crompton's position might have transferred. Instead, he sat on the bench behind Ainge for two years after redshirting and waited for his opportunity.
Now that his opportunity has finally come, I don't expect him to blow it. In fact, he could become the third-best quarterback in the league - behind Florida's Tim Tebow and Georgia's Matthew Stafford.
Much of Crompton's success will depend on his supporting cast. In a best-case scenario, senior tailback Arian Foster will stay healthy, hold on to the football and challenge for the rushing title; sophomore Gerald Jones will become a big-time playmaker as a wide receiver and at quarterback in the "G-Gun" package; and an experienced offensive line will live up to its preseason expectations.
The defense appears to be significantly improved over last season, but you have to wonder about the depth of the front seven, particularly at tackle. In UT's three toughest games - against Florida, Auburn and Georgia - that defense will be matched against formidable offenses, all of which will field experienced, talented offensive lines.
Of course, the schedule will be challenging. But you have to check the opposing schedules to fully appreciate UT's challenge.
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Kentucky all will have open dates before they play UT. The Vols' open dates are wasted before UAB and Vanderbilt.
In a conference as balanced as this one, advantages like that are magnified.
Prediction: A 9-3 regular season and a berth in the Capital One Bowl.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.