Anybody who even vaguely understands the culture that is college football in the south—especially in the Southeastern Conference—understands that it takes less than a Saturday for a star to be born in our league.
The SEC is a league steeped in tradition and high expectations. In less than a single Saturday you can become the next big star or the next big flop. Every fan base has that one defining moment of stardom and that one story of what could have been.
At some barbershop near Tuscaloosa as we speak, I’m sure there are a group of Bammers sitting around a coffee table talking about Barry Krauss and his goal line stop in the 1979 Sugar Bowl against Penn State.
At a diner in Arkansas, a Hawg fan uses Clint Stoerner’s name in vain and dreams of what could have been in '98 if not for a freaky fumble. One play, a hero; the next, a villain.
Saturday in Memphis, like it or not, a star was born. . . a love child of necessity and expectation.
This time it took a little longer than a single play, as it took a whole half for Tennessee freshman QB Tyler Bray.
Now let’s get this out of the way, because, inevitably, I will be completely disregarded if I don‘t clarify that I am in no way, shape or form comparing his heroics to that of Krauss. Nor am I putting him on the same stage as a QB with Clint Stoerner, who despite his blunder was a great quarterback in his own right. I am merely stating that it doesn’t take long for the “astronomy” of the SEC to change drastically.
The past few years at Tennessee have been as rough a patch as any in the storied history of the Volunteer football program. And this year has been especially damaging to the psyche of Tennessee fans across the country.
So, technically, you can attribute Tyler Bray’s new-found stardom as much to necessity as you can to performance, but it is far from blind optimism to think that the Vols might really have something special with this young man after his 300+ yard, 5 touchdown first half performance this past Saturday in Memphis.
Truth is, the Memphis defense that Tyler Bray dissected last weekend may be the worst defense in the country, so the numbers are relative. However, anyone with an eye for talent could certainly see some attributes that translate just as well against the best of defenses. Despite giving up zero sacks for the game, the Tennessee O-line unit was far from good Saturday night, and Memphis was consistently in the backfield disrupting Bray’s rhythm, but the 6’6” 210 pounder from Kingsburg, California, looked far from the freshman he is while exhibiting a knack to elude the rush.
Bray flat-out threw a few receivers open in that first half, particularly on a back shoulder fade early in the second quarter, which is a throw that many consider one of the most difficult in the game (along with the skinny post.)
The skill set that Tyler Bray possesses at the quarterback position demonstrate the type of tools that make talent evaluators like Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay salivate like a pair of Pavlov’s Dogs.
However, there are some things going forward that we must be conscious of in dealing with our expectations of Tyler Bray.
Now, I learned a long time ago that trying to tell an SEC fan to not have unrealistic expectations is like trying to tell a child not to touch a hot stove…inevitably everyone gets burned.
Yet, here I am, reminding Tennessee fans it may be a little early to put Bray in his own Sprint commercial (he has a little brother too!) Tyler Bray may eventually break every record there is to break at Tennessee and lead them to championships, sending the Vols to levels of prosperity that the fans in Knoxville haven’t seen since the General.
Or, he may throw four picks next week against Ole Miss and become our next Brent Schaefer. The fact of the matter is that he may be a star, but he is far from ready to be the star we need him to be.
He looks to be mature beyond his years, but looks can be deceiving. He is a freshman playing with a roster full of players just as inexperienced as he is. There is going to be a learning curve and the deck is certainly stacked against him, but it’s important to remember that a star fades in this league just as quickly as he appears.
So when it comes to Tyler Bray, maybe it’s best if we take it all in stride and just sit back, relax and enjoy the “stargazing.”