Autumn is here and with the change of the leaves and the season comes college football, and with college football comes talk of the Heisman. Who is on your Heisman watch? Is it Andrew Luck from Stanford? Is it Kellen Moore from Boise State or Denard Robinson from Michigan? Everyone knows the frontrunners, but what about the Dark horse, that brilliant talent that comes from out of nowhere like a shot in the dark? For me it could be the 6’6”, 215 pound sophomore Tyler Bray, Citizen Potawatomi Nation, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers.
Tyler, who is from Kingsburg, California, went to Kingsburg High School. He had an eye-popping senior year, throwing for 3,321 yards and 41 touchdowns while leading his team to a 13-0 season. Tyler was one of the best high school quarterbacks in the country and was heavily recruited by Fresno State, Louisville, and USC, but he choose to leave sunny California for the tough South Eastern Conference to play for Tennessee.
Last year, as a freshman for the Vols, Bray wasn’t an instant hit. He didn’t start his first game until November 6 at Memphis. Bray’s stat line in his first ever game was impressive, throwing for 325 yards and five touchdowns in the 50-14 thrashing over the Tigers. The craziest part? He did the majority of this damage in one half of football.
That mind blowing game against Memphis ushered in the Tyler Bray era, and happily ended the Vols four game losing streak. Bray followed that game up with another outstanding performance against Ole Miss, finishing 18-34 for 323 yards and 5 Touchdowns in a 52-14 drubbing. Ultimately Bray led the Vols to a 4-1 record as a starter. In his limited time as a starter, Tyler was able to throw for 1,849 yards (a new school record for freshmen), 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Tyler also managed to win the SEC Freshman of the Week three times (Nov. 6, 13 & 27, 2010).
This set the hype machine into overdrive for the start of this year’s season, as Bray was named to the 2011 preseason Manning, O’Brien, and Maxwell Award watch lists. Bray and the Volunteers ripped apart the Montana Grizzlies in the first game, with Bray finishing 17-24 for 293 with 3 Touchdowns and no interceptions as The Vols won 42-16. In his second game of 2011, Bray had a monster day where he finished 34-41 for 405 with 4 Touchdowns and no interceptions. He broke Peyton Manning's record of 7 consecutive games with at least 2 touchdowns, and also had the highest the completion percentage ever recorded in a game by a Tennessee QB of 82.9%, breaking Manning's record of 77.5% set as a senior against Georgia in 1997. Bray was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week (Sept. 12, 2011)
To step up into the Heisman watch, the talented sophomore had a perfect opportunity playing against the highly favored #15 ranked Florida Gators down in the dreaded Swamp, where the Vols hadn’t won a against since 2004.
The Vols offensive line couldn’t protect Bray, giving up three sacks, and allowing constant pressure in his face all day. Consistent bad snaps from the center had Bray scooping balls off the field like a short stop.
Despite having a lot of things go against him, Bray still played a decent game, going 26-48 for 288 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. What we learned about Bray in this tough game against the rival Gators was that he can handle adversity with poise and composure, despite being only a sophomore. He’s a mentally tough young man, and when the chips are down, he will continue to fight. I am sure that his great cousin, Jim Thorpe (Tyler’s great grandfather’s cousin) would be proud.
Tyler’s next chance to show his Heisman metal against top flight opponents will be in back-to-back giant matchups, starting with the October 15 game against #3 LSU and followed by the October 22 game at #2 Alabama. Two great games by Tyler and the Vols against two of the best college football teams will put Tyler right into the middle of the Heisman watch.