Tennessee Volunteers' Tyler Bray: Can He Be The Next Peyton Manning?

John WhiteCorrespondent IIINovember 7, 2010

A legend being forged.
A legend being forged.

The Tennessee Vols really haven't had any high points, except making the first half of their games interesting, giving us glimpses of what may come.

Aside from that, several things became abundantly clear Saturday night. California true freshman, Tyler Bray, stood up and testified to his own talents and claimed his spot as Tennessee's next Big Orange hero.

We've all seen the gaudy stats, but let's quickly return to what transpired. In the first half, Bray threw for an impressive 308 yards, five touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

School records are cool and all, but leave me with a question. Does Bray have what it takes to be the next Peyton Manning, or are we getting a preview of the "Bray Day"?

For all who witnessed Tennessee's game against a somewhat mishap-plagued Memphis, it was nothing short of shooting fish in a barrel. Let's face it: Bray wasn’t exactly facing an evenly matched pass defense.

There were times when receivers were so open they literally stopped and waited for the delivery, and when they weren't waiting, the ball came at them so fast you missed the play.

Bray wasn't facing Florida, so even if he manages to win the rest of the schedule, he will still have to wait until next season to be SEC-evaluated. But you have to start somewhere, right?

Any fan of Tennessee is thinking or daydreaming right now of one thing. Could Tyler Bray be good enough, and will the stars line up, so that he too could have a street named after him. Before we can be so bold as to label Bray, consider that Bray has none of the benefits afforded to him as Manning did.

For one, Manning inherited Todd Helton's offensive line, which was formidable, to say the least. Two, Manning had David Cutcliffe, who in my opinion is the best QB coach in the history of the sport. He was able to polish an already razor sharp talent into scalpel like efficiency.

Three, there was a stable of receivers that could quite literally jump up and grab those errant, "happy-feet" passes that were hurried by a tired offensive line which was usually on the field for three quarters of the time.

Much for my own humility than nothing else, I must admit that thus far I have criticized Tyler Bray a bit unfairly. I have called him scarecrow, and relentlessly berated his physique and weight, and for that I must acknowledge a few things.

Bray has taken a licking and kept on ticking. Now, I know he hasn’t stood up for an entire game against a stellar defense but, he has been hit no less than two dozen times from which he was knocked to the ground eight of those times.

Despite my bantering of skinny and breakable jokes, he has not yet been broken, and for that I must say kudos for staying alive and intact.

Oh yeah. You have a really, really good arm also.

I think it would be prudent to remember and remark on another skinny kid that had not yet breached the 200-pound mark upon his enrollment at Tennessee. Peyton was all of 190 pounds when he took the field for the first time in 1994, and we all know how he turned out.

Bray's next test as starter will be against a battle-weary Ole Miss. The Rebels have only beaten one conference contender, edging out Kentucky with a late drive, but they were able stay toe-to-toe with Auburn, who at last glance was at the top of the polls.

Needless to say, the offensive line isn't facing Memphis now, and the pass defense is markedly better. If Bray can manage to put up respectable numbers and win the day, he may very well be on his way to Volunteer martyrdom.

Getting the win over an SEC opponent will be his next test, then it's Vandy and finally a much improved Kentucky.

Just like Cutcliffe told Peyton and Eli, "It's all there for the taking. You just have to walk through the door."