Jonathan Crompton has joined some elite company at the University of Tennessee.
Think Erik Ainge, Heath Shuler, Peyton Manning. Yeah, that elite.
As September turned to October, it appeared Crompton would go out as the most reviled quarterback in Tennessee football history. Instead, the fifth-year senior will go out with a much different distinction: a record book quarterback.
With at least three games remaining, Crompton has thrown more touchdowns this season than just about any quarterback has thrown in a single season in Tennessee history. With an ever-improving receiving corps to aim at, Crompton has jumped to seventh on the list of single-season passing touchdowns, and could be in the Top Five by the time the Vols' game at Ole Miss this weekend is complete.
Homecoming on Saturday was a career night for Crompton. Facing Memphis, Crompton completed 21 of 27 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns.
Sure, it was Memphis. But four weeks ago, 100,000 people would have laughed at you if you had walked into Neyland Stadium and announced that Crompton would put up those numbers against Slippery Rock State. Let alone a Football Bowl Series opponent.
When Crompton hit Gerald Jones for a 17-yard score in the first quarter Saturday, he tied Erik Ainge's 17 touchdowns in 2006. Three touchdowns in a nine minute span of the second quarter allowed Crompton to surge past Dewey Warren's 18 touchdown passes in 1966, and Tee Martin's 19 touchdown passes in the 1998 National Championship season and Ainge's 19 in 2004.
A 16-yard touchdown pass to Denarius Moore early in the third quarter bumped Crompton ahead of Peyton Manning's 20 touchdown passes in 1996.
One more touchdown pass will give Crompton 22 on the season. That would tie him for fifth place, with Manning (1995) and Casey Clausen (2001). He isn't going to catch Manning's 37 TD passes in 1997, and may not catch Ainge's 31 in 2007. But it's conceivable that he could pass Heath Shuler's 25 touchdowns from 1993 and Clausen's 23 from 2003.
That's an over-elaboration of the obvious: It's been a good season for Crompton. His 21 touchdowns lead the SEC—the same conference in which Tim Tebow plays—and are fourth nationally.
It's been quite a road for Crompton.
At this time last year, he was receiving death threats from a few deranged fans. At this time last month, he was hearing boos on a routine basis at Neyland Stadium. Fans demanded, then begged, Vols coach Lane Kiffin to bench Crompton and insert junior backup Nick Stephens.
Under the tutelage of brothers-in-law Kiffin and David Reaves, Crompton has gone from hated to vindicated.
As the Vols were losing to Auburn back on Oct. 3, something clicked. Crompton rallied Tennessee in the fourth quarter. It was a rally that would come up short, 26-22, but it laid the foundation for a successful season to come.
Consider these statistics in the 18 quarters since Crompton's seemingly magic turnaround: He has completed 90 of 158 passes for 1,194 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just two interceptions.
He's no Peyton Manning, and no one is going to consider Crompton the SEC's best quarterback. But as Tennessee entered the season, most Vols fans' wildest dreams centered around a version of Crompton who wouldn't beat his team with untimely mistakes.
Few would have imagined Crompton's transformation to a quarterback who can actually be called upon to win games as the Vols prepare for the November stretch run.
Crompton has the Tennessee offense playing well. There were lopsided wins over SEC East rivals Georgia and South Carolina. A winning record is within reach. A New Year's Day bowl game might be just around the corner.
And for Crompton, a coveted spot on an NFL roster could be waiting. Ludicrous? About as ludicrous as someone saying in August that Crompton would complete 21 of 27 passes for 331 yards and five touchdowns against any team on Tennessee's schedule this season. About as ludicrous as suggesting that he would finish in the Top Five for single-season touchdown passes.
It's enough to have Tennessee fans uttering words that no one would've imagined just a few short weeks ago: "We're gonna miss Jonathan Crompton next year."