Tennessee football was entering a new era in 2000. After losing Tee Martin and lots of other talent in 1999, they were expected to rebuild. But California quarterback Casey Clausen was supposed to come in and be the next Peyton Manning.
However, an offseason injury kept Clausen out for the first five games of the year. During that time, the Vols fell to 2-3 with two heartbreaking losses. After a bye week, Phillip Fulmer was finally able to make the switch to Clausen, and in his opening game, he led UT to a victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The next week, Clausen led a game-winning drive to beat the South Carolina Gamecock on the road, and then he led a game-winning field goal drive to beat the Memphis Tigers after that. Clausen’s offense finally got on a roll after that and dropped 63 and 59 in blowout wins over the Arkansas Razorbacks and the Kentucky Wildcats before holding off the Vanderbilt Commodores.
At 2-3, Clausen turned the Vols around and finished 8-3. Meanwhile, as a true freshman, he completed 62.4 percent of his passes for 1,473 yards, 15 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. A Cotton Bowl loss to the Kansas State Wildcats was humbling to finish 8-4, but Clausen still set the stage for his future as UT’s starting quarterback with a big freshman campaign.