When Tennessee first-year coach Lane Kiffin announced his starting quarterback last week, he commended both the winner and the runner-up.
"We've got two good quarterbacks," he said.
That didn't necessarily elicit an "amen" from the Big Orange faithful, whose quarterback skepticism is at an all-time high following last season.
But Kiffin can't afford to be skeptical. He has to do everything he can to help Jonathan Crompton and Nick Stephens succeed. That includes building and maintaining their confidence.
So don't bother asking whether Crompton and Stephens are good quarterbacks. A more appropriate question: Are they better quarterbacks?
They certainly seem better than last year, but only games can provide confirmation.
While acknowledging their improvement, I'm probably guilty of focusing more on their minuses than pluses. That's a carryover from last season.
Kiffin has no history with Crompton or Stephens. He has judged them based on what they have done in his offensive system under his coaching staff.
There's another way to evaluate UT's quarterbacks. Check out the competition.
No one expects Crompton to make All-SEC. But no one is promoting the majority of quarterbacks on UT's schedule for post-season honors, either.
In the SEC, Florida's Tim Tebow or Ole Miss' Jevan Snead are in a class by themselves. Arkansas' Ryan Mallett is probably next in line, but there are questions about every other quarterback in the SEC. And UT's non-conference opponents aren't exactly launching Heisman campaigns for their quarterbacks.
So for comparison's sake, set aside the Florida and Ole Miss games, where there's no quarterback debate. Also, throw out the Western Kentucky and Ohio University games, where the disparity in talent should make quarterback evaluations irrelevant.
Here's a quarterback comparison for the other eight games:
n UCLA: Kevin Prince has shown promise unseating Kevin Craft, who was good enough to beat the Vols last year. But Prince is a redshirt freshman starting his first road game - in Neyland Stadium. Remember Cal's Nate Longshore?
Edge to UT.
n Auburn: Quarterback Chris Todd contributed to Auburn's ugly victory over UT last season despite playing with a bum shoulder. But Crompton has a better supporting cast and the home-field advantage.
Edge to UT.
n Georgia: Joe Cox has spent the majority of his college career sitting on the bench behind Matthew Stafford, but his teammates and coaches swear by him. He has one of the conference's best offensive lines and All-SEC wide receiver A.J. Green.
Edge to Georgia.
n Alabama: Greg McElroy is another career backup, but everyone raves about his accuracy and knowledge of the offense. Plus, he's surrounded by talent.
Edge to Alabama.
n South Carolina: Stephen Garcia qualifies as the most unpredictable quarterback in the league. He flashed talent as both a runner and passer last season against UT but was awful in the Holiday Bowl against Iowa and has been maddeningly inconsistent.
n Memphis: Strong-armed Arkelon Hall had several big games last season but is hard to evaluate because Conference USA defenses bear little resemblance to the SEC's. Carlos Singleton and Duke Calhoun should finish their careers as the school's all-time leading receivers, but the offensive line is questionable.
n Vanderbilt: Mackenzi Adams has been inconsistent throughout his career. Larry Smith was good enough to start in the bowl victory against Boston College.
SEC defenses aren't shaking at the thought of facing either one of them.
Edge to UT.
n Kentucky: Mike Hartline looked awful at the outset of his first season as a starter but played well in the Wildcats' bowl victory. He's tall and somewhat athletic but often plays as though he's afraid to make a mistake.
Edge to UT.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.