(Tyler Bray launches a pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks earlier in the 2010 season.)

The Tennessee Volunteers finally have something to cheer about this football season and a majority of their cheering is due to the phenomenal breakout of freshmen QB Tyler Bray, a Citizen Potawatomi Nation member. While Bray wasn’t ashighly touted as some prospects in high school (he was only rated a four-star by Rivals and only had offers from San Diego St. and Fresno St.), he still showed enough promise for former UT coach Lane Kiffin to offer him a scholarship.

Bray’s performances in his four starts (all wins, over Memphis State, Mississippi Universality, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky) have his Vols in the December 30th Music City Bowl, to be played at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. The 6-and-6 Volunteers will take on the 7-and-5 North Carolina Tarheels. Kickoff is at 5:40 p.m. (CST), with the broadcast on ESPN.

“I’m proud of our football team and how they finished the season, and playing in the Music City Bowl is a tremendous reward for our team, staff, and fans,” said Tennessee Director of Athletics Mike Hamilton. “We’re excited about the trip to Nashville and about playing in LP Field in a stadium filled with orange. We also look forward to working with a longtime friend in Scott Ramsey and his great staff at the Music City Bowl.”

This will be the 32nd meeting between Tennessee and North Carolina on the football field and the first since 1961. Tennessee owns a 20-10-1 edge in the all-time series, including wins in 11 of the last 13 games played (between 1949 and 1961). The two teams met in 17 consecutive seasons from 1945 through 1961, but they have never met in a bowl game.  

Upon receiving Tennessee’s scholarship offer, Bray accepted and was one of the headliners of Derek Dooley’s first recruiting class. Bray arrived on campus in January at 6’6’ tall and 185 pounds. From there, he took on Bennie Wylie’s weight program and bulked up to a solid 200 pounds. Many media members deemed Bray the future of the Volunteers, but just as many of them members worried that he would never be big enough or strong enough to lead a team, especially with such a young offensive line.

However, what couldn’t have been foreseeable was Bray’s impact once he was named the starter for the Vols. Sitting at 2-6, nothing seemed like it could improve for the Volunteers and, with Memphis coming up, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for Coach Dooley to put his heralded freshmen in full-time. Dooley did, and bray responded, posting 308 yards and five touchdowns in the first half alone, as the Vols won 50-14.

The fan base then exploded with excitement, since they haven’t had much to be excited about this season. So with Bray being touted as ‘Peyton Manning Jr.’, the Volunteers were ready to put the smack-down on Ole Miss for a crucial game, in which Tennessee was seeking its first SEC victory. Bray didn’t disappoint and ended up leading the Vols to a 52-14 win over the Rebels, while passing for three TDs and 300 yards. The rave reviews keep coming for the freshmen from Kingsburg, California, who also played basketball in high school.

In the eight games in which he played, Bray completed 98 of 179 passes for 14 TDs and 1537 yards. He threw seven interceptions

At this point, Bray has a cool, calm, and collected aura and his “easy-come, easy-go” mentality have led to the ignition of the Vol faithful’s optimism. Keep an eye on these Volunteers. They’re not the same team that was stomped by Oregon, Georgia, and Alabama. These Vols mean business and they are now led by their fearless leader, Tyler Bray.