Never has an educated, well-spoken attorney from Georgia depended so much on the ability of a lanky, college kid from California until Derek Dooley and Tyler Bray. Most agree that the Tennessee Volunteers need to perform this season for Dooley to return, and Bray is the most important figure in all of it.
Dooley himself admits that the atypical burdens of the past few years are now gone:
I feel like all those anchors that were weighing the program down and making it challenging are gone.
The key is ensuring a big season from Bray, so besides losing this tattoo, here are the three things that I think he'll do this fall to help save Dooley's job.
Let's start with the obvious. The first thing Tyler Bray can do for the 2012 Tennessee Vols is to have a huge statistical year—something he's capable of doing.
In his two years, Bray averages just under 240 yards and two touchdowns passing per game. Extend that over a 12-game season and you have a 2,880-yard, 24-touchdown year—a very good season by most standards.
In what will be Bray's junior year, he will outdo his own averages. The kind of season I believe he's looking at is 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, boosted by his own improvement along with the uncertainty in the running game.
Such a season would make Bray just the third quarterback in school history with over 3,000 yards in a season. Peyton Manning (twice) and Erik Ainge are the other two.
Bray has, perhaps, the best receiving corp in the country, making this lofty goal achievable. The biggest threat to a huge stats year this fall is his ability to stay on the field.
A Completely Healthy Season
In 2010, Tyler Bray was a tall, skinny freshman who we hoped would be good in the future. Derek Dooley —intentional or not—inserted him into the starting lineup at the end of the season after the Volunteers had passed their hardest conference games.
In 2011, Bray was still tall and still skinny, but he was the unquestioned starter from day one and set numerous school records, and even more not-done-since-Peyton-Mannings, before an unlucky injury against Georgia.
He has never played a complete game against Georgia or South Carolina. He has but five career completions against Alabama in garbage time during his freshman year.
Bray is untested, but so are those SEC foes that have yet to see him start against them. This year, he needs to start each and every game in order for Tennessee to have the kind of season that will see Dooley return for a 2013.
The Kentucky game, last year, completely blew me away and changed my entire outlook on this group of Tennessee Volunteers for two reasons.
First, Derek Dooley did a terrible job of motivating the players. They looked dead from the opening kick off, and it only got worse.
Second, Tyler Bray was hardly any help at all in picking up where the coaching left off. If the starting quarterback senses a lack of focus and intensity in a game that would lead to a bowl game and extend the nation's longest winning streak, it's his job to fix it.
I'm going to give Bray the benefit of the doubt that his lack of leadership had to do with his youth and not his heart. It's tough to lead as sophomore, especially when you've missed a quarter of the season.
But enough of that! Bray needs to be a stronger leader this year, and by all accounts, he has taken that charge seriously.
A strong year for Bray means eight or nine wins. Eight or nine wins means Derek Dooley will stay on as the coach of the Vols.