KNOXVILLE — If quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson indeed did play their final games for Tennessee on Saturday, they wouldn't admit it after the game.
The Volunteers' productive junior trio very well could opt to go to the NFL early, and after having said they'd think about their futures after the season, they discussed some of the factors in their upcoming decisions following Saturday's winning finale against Kentucky.
"Who knows?" Bray said when asked about what he'd do.
"Coaching has a little bit to do with it. It's also the players -- who's staying, who's leaving. That has a lot to do with it as well."
If Hunter and Patterson elect to leave, Bray could be without his top four targets -- slot receiver Zach Rogers and tight end Mychal Rivera are seniors -- should he elect to come back next season.
"I think Tyler's a good quarterback that's got a very bright future in front of him," Vols offensive coordinator and interim head coach Jim Chaney said.
According to ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper, Bray is the second-ranked junior quarterback, and CBSSports rates him 85th overall and ninth among quarterbacks and projects him as a second- or third-round pick.
Hunter and Patterson, who are rated higher than Bray, said Tennessee's choice as its new coach to replace the dismissed Derek Dooley would be a factor for them.
"It's going to play a big part in our decision," Hunter said, "so we've got to wait for that to make our decision. I'm not thinking about it right now. I'm just thinking about this good win we had, and I'm about to go celebrate with my teammates."
In October, Hunter was rated by ESPN's Todd McShay as the top-rated receiver among the draft-eligible player for 2013, but Patterson has had a more impressive season. The junior college transfer has dazzled on nearly every touch of the ball and become the kind of player who can score any time he gets the ball. Kiper moved him to 12th overall on his board this week, and Patterson and Hunter are first and third, respectively, in Kiper's rankings of junior receivers.
"CP's a heck of a talent," Chaney said. "I've joked many times that I think he's as good as I've seen at what he does with the football in his hands, and I've watched some good football players over my years. His passion for the game of football is what y'all probably don't see.
"He'll continue to get better at route-running. You had to find ways to get him the ball, but, boy, when it comes up to him and he knows where he's going, he's pretty good. The sky's the limit for that young man's development, and how good he can be remains to be seen.
"He understands that. He truly understands he has a lot of growth left to do, but he also has a very fine arrogance about him. He knows he's pretty [darn] good."
Bray threw for 293 yards and four touchdown passes Saturday and finished two touchdowns and 207 yards short of Peyton Manning's single-season records. Hunter's 73 receptions are the second-most in a season in program history, and his 1,083 yards were third-most in one season. He's caught 18 touchdown passes in 28 career games.
Patterson shattered Reggie Cobb's single-season all-purpose-yards mark with 1,858 and added a fifth receiving touchdown to his three rushing scores and punt and kickoff return touchdowns.
"It was an awesome year," he said. "All this stuff came at me so fast. I didn't expect any of this going from junior college.
"Just coming here and just working hard every day, great things happened for me."
Bray accounted for 62 percent of Tennessee's yards and 34 of the Vols' 56 total touchdowns. Hunter and Patterson combined for 49 percent of Tennessee's receiving yards, 42 percent of the Vols' total receptions and 14 of 35 TD catches. Rivera and Rogers combined for another 68 catches, 1,053 yards and 12 TDs.
Though they've not officially made their decisions, it's very likely that Saturday was the final games for Bray, Hunter and Patterson.
"When that decision comes," Patterson said, "we'll see what's best for us."
Williams' big day
Jordan Williams played his best game of the season Saturday. The sophomore Jack linebacker made three tackles for loss, including two on fourth-and-short plays with Kentucky threatening. He also sacked quarterback Jalen Whitlow with the Wildcats on the doorstep of a lead.
"I definitely thought I was going to do this a little bit earlier in the season and not the last game," he said, "but I've always got next year."
Chaney remained on staff at Tennessee from Lane Kiffin to Dooley, but he conceded that staying on through another transition is out of his hands.
"If it worked out," he said. "The gentleman that they hire, that's his job to make those decisions. I can say personally, my family and I, we really enjoy Knoxville, we love the University of Tennessee, and if that opportunity comes up, we would love to discuss that.
"That's whoever they end up hiring's decision."
Earlier in the week, at least four other assistant coaches expressed a desire to stay at Tennessee if presented the opportunity.
Though nickelback Eric Gordon and cornerback Daniel Gray returned to practice during the week, neither played Saturday. With freshman corner Deion Bonner still suspended, walk-on Jaron Toney and fourth-year junior Naz Oliver, who made his debut on Saturday, played plenty. Toney was in on 11 tackles. ... Defensive tackle Daniel Hood made his first start of the season. ... Linebacker A.J. Johnson finished with 14 tackles and added his first career sack. The sophomore out-tackled Kentucky's Avery Williamson for the most in the SEC this season. He also scored his sixth touchdown on his 12th carry of the season. ... New York Mets and former Tennessee pitcher R.A. Dickey was honored on the field during a first-quarter timeout for winning the 2012 National League Cy Young Award.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...