Certainly, Clausen was a backup for most of 2004. Outplayed by freshmen
Brent Schaeffer and Erik Ainge in preseason drills, he opened last fall as
the No. 3 QB behind his rookie counterparts. But when Schaeffer and Ainge
suffered season-ending injuries on back-to-back weekends, Clausen played
like anything but a backup in Games 10, 11, 12 and 13. He performed
brilliantly as the Vols beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Although his stats
were mediocre, he directed the offense flawlessly as UT put a scare into
unbeaten Auburn in the SEC Championship Game. Then he closed with a
flourish, giving an MVP-winning effort as the Vols hammered Texas A&M 38-7
in the Cotton Bowl.
These performances obviously earned the respect of his teammates, who voted
Clausen a captain for 2005. But the respect of many fans continues to elude
him, even though Clausen put up better numbers than Ainge in spring
scrimmages and is bracketed No. 1 with him this summer.
Even Phil Fulmer carefully avoids calling Clausen a backup.
''Whether he's the starter or not,'' the Vols' head man recently told The
Knoxville News-Sentinel, ''he's a very important part of this football
Of course, so is Ainge. The towering sophomore has as much raw ability as
any quarterback in college football. He has a 6-6 frame, a rocket arm,
terrific accuracy and touch, decent feet and a quick mind. In short, his
potential is mind-boggling.
But potential doesn't win football games. Points do, and Tennessee averaged
38 points per game with Rick Clausen at quarterback last fall. Though
lacking Ainge's physical gifts, Clausen's savvy and leadership helped the
Vol offense play its best football of the season the last four games of
That isn't the only reason Clausen is going to SEC Media Days, however. He's
going because he adheres strictly to team rules (which probably cost star
tailback Gerald Riggs, Jr., a trip to Birmingham). And he's going because,
unlike his brother Casey, Rick never says anything rash that might come back
to bite him (or Fulmer) in the butt.
Bottom line: Rick Clausen is a surprising, but deserving choice as UT's
offensive representative to Media Days.
P.S. -- Selecting the Vols' defensive representative to Media Days,
cornerback Jason Allen, was a no-brainer. The 6-2, 202-pound cornerback is
an Alabama native (Muscle Shoals) who led the league in tackles last fall
and ranks among the NCAA's premier defenders heading into his senior year.