How Tennessee football QBs who won starting job midseason performed the next year

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Assuming Hendon Hooker takes the first offensive snap at quarterback to begin the 2022 season for Tennessee football, he’ll become just the 11th Vol to do so who won the starting job after the beginning of the previous season. Hooker stepped in for Joe Milton III, who got hurt against the Pittsburgh Panthers, and never looked back.

Few quarterbacks, though, have had the same level of success on Rocky Top as a follow-up. In some cases, it was the start of a legendary career marked by championships and records. That doesn’t always mean that they had a good first year opening the season as a starter.

This post will take a look at the quarterbacks who fit that mold. We’re judging the seasons quarterbacks had based on stats and wins and losses, but it’s relative to the era they played in too. Here is a ranking of Tennessee football’s 10 quarterbacks based on the years they had starting the opener after winning the starting job midseason the year before.

September 26, 2005; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Erik Ainge throws against the Louisiana State Tigers during the first half at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports © 2005 Matt Stamey

Erik Ainge
2005 Sophomore

66-of-145; 737 yards; 5 TDs; 7 INTs

Effectively, Erik Ainge and Brent Schaeffer were co-starters as true freshmen in 2004, but Ainge didn’t start a game until the Vols’ fourth matchup of the season, against the Auburn Tigers. He led UT to wins over the Florida Gators, Georgia Bulldogs and Alabama Crimson Tide and was the reason they won the East.

However, he suffered a season-ending injury against the Notre Fighting Irish, and Rick Clausen came in to finish the year, which involved going 10-3 and a Cotton Bowl win. Ainge was back as the starter to begin 2005, but his confidence was shot with Clausen competing with him despite Schaeffer transferring.

Phillip Fulmer and Randy Sanders could never commit to either quarterback, and the result was Tennessee football stumbling to its first losing season since 1988, going 5-6, and suffering its first loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores since 1982. It’s safe to say Ainge’s second year was a disaster.

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