Throughout the 2019-20 College Football season, the quarterback situation was one of the most intriguing aspects of Tennessee’s year. Four different players started at the position — Jarrett Guarantano, Brian Maurer, J.T. Shrout, and Jauan Jennings — and three of them are returning for another season on Rocky Top. The only player that won’t be back is wide receiver Jauan Jennings, who started out of the wildcat against South Carolina.
With all three of the experienced quarterbacks returning, and Tennessee adding highly recruited Marietta quarterback Harrison Bailey, dual threat athlete Jimmy Holiday, and Maryland transfer Kasim Hill — who will be eligible after being forced to sit out one year due to NCAA rules — it’s bound to be another very interesting offseason battle in Knoxville.
But which option is the best, and who will secure the job as the back-up if the starter gets injured — as we saw numerous times throughout the 2019-20 season? Here’s our detailed preview of the quarterback situation for Tennessee for the 2020-21 season.
The Case For Jarrett Guarantano
Guarantano, a redshirt senior, offers a sense of stability in a time in which it is desperately needed in Tennessee’s offense. Coaches are likely extremely comfortable with Guarantano due to his experience, and although he may not have the brightest future in the quarterback room, he has seen and experienced scenarios that younger quarterbacks, such as Harrison Bailey, have not yet had the opportunity to. He knows what it’s like to win an SEC game on the road, and he knows the toughness that defenses in this conference possess. If Jarrett Guarantano takes the first snap in Neyland Stadium on September 5th against Charlotte, it will be because the Vols’ coaches value the experience he has earned throughout his time in Knoxville.
The Case Against Jarrett Guarantano
Guarantano was able to mend his relationship with most Tennessee fans after leading the Vols to victory in their final 6 games, including a 22-21 barn burner in Jacksonville, Florida against Indiana in the annual Taxslayer Gator Bowl. However, for many, they see a lack of progress over the years. Fans who are against starting the redshirt senior believe that his strong finish to the 2019-20 season does not outweigh his struggles throughout his first 3 and a half seasons of starting for the Volunteers. Their rebuttal to the claim that Guarantano’s experience propels him above his younger peers is that his experience is bad experience. They see younger and more exciting options such as Harrison Bailey as more appealing because their physical talent is better than Guarantano. In simpler terms, they don’t see Guarantano’s experience as a strength because his team never had great success during his leadership. His offenses always seemed to struggle, so they believe that Tennessee must find a different, more exciting option.
The Case For Harrison Bailey
Harrison Bailey is an extremely talented young freshman who enjoyed the luxury of dominating his competition in an extremely talented division in Georgia. Bailey has the arm strength to fire the ball any place on the field and, standing at 6’5’’ 211 pounds, has the physical size to have success against SEC competition.
Rated as a 5-star recruit by Rivals, and a high 4-star by 247Sports, Bailey was a player that every team in the country wanted. There’s no doubt that his potential is greater than anyone else on the roster, and some may argue that his raw talent already makes him the best option for Tennessee to win football games.
The Case Against Harrison Bailey
Even if Bailey had great success against extremely talented competition at the High School level, succeeding in the SEC at a collegiate level is a whole different ball game. Many fans against starting Bailey argue that he’s not ready to play against teams such as Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and Oklahoma on a weekly basis, and a player who has already experienced those high caliber teams — such as Jarrett Guarantano — would be a much better option for Tennessee, and give them the best opportunity to win games.
In the end, it will come down to what the coaches value more, experience or potential, stability or risk, and for some, Harrison Bailey is a risk that Tennessee can’t afford to take at this point in Jeremy Pruitt’s tenure. Redshirting him and giving Jarrett Guarantano an opportunity in his 5th season on Rocky Top may simply be a safer option.
While Jarrett Guarantano and Harrison Bailey seem to be the two front runners to start for Tennessee in 2020, it is very important to remember that there are other options that the coaches could be considering.
The Case For Brian Maurer
Some see Brian Maurer as a perfect compromise between Guarantano and Bailey. He started multiple match-ups for Tennessee in 2019, which gives him the experience Jarrett Guarantano supporters value, but still has a lot of room to grow and is filled with potential, which is the side of the argument that Harrison Bailey’s fans think is more important.
At times he seemed to deliver a spark to a dull Tennessee offense, such as against Georgia and Mississippi State, and continually excited Tennessee fans when they were ready to give up on Jarrett Guarantano. Maurer could be the perfect combination of experience and potential if he is able to improve over the offseason in his 2nd season under offensive coordinator Jim Chaney
The Case Against Brian Maurer
While some may argue that Maurer balances the two most important skills that a quarterback must possess, others will point to how he struggled in his freshman season.
There’s no doubt that at times Maurer simply did not look like an SEC quarterback, and one unfortunate stat shows that he has more interceptions than he has touchdowns. He was not ready to play in the SEC, he was simply not prepared to go up against some of the nation’s top defenses in the SEC. There is no doubt that he can become a great quarterback through time, but right now, he is too young and inexperienced.
The Case For J.T. Shrout
J.T. Shrout is often the forgotten quarterback on Tennessee’s roster. He never really had a chance to prove himself, and for the most part, was overshadowed by Maurer and Guarantano. Despite this, Shrout was able to have breakthrough moments, throwing a beautiful pass to Marquez Callaway to sway the momentum almost entirely to Tennessee’s side against South Carolina amid others.
In fact, Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt once said that Shrout had the best arm in Tennessee’s quarterback room. For what it’s worth that was prior to Harrison Bailey arriving on campus, but it’s very noteworthy that Pruitt thought that Shrout had a better arm than Guarantano and Maurer.
The Case Against J.T. Shrout
Shrout does have issues when it comes to ball control. He had 25 interceptions during his senior year of high school, which likely scared off major programs during his recruitment. In fact, Tennessee didn’t offer Shrout until very late during his recruitment, barely swaying him away from California at the last minute.
Due to being overshadowed by Maurer and Guarantano, he is a massive question mark. We’ve seen some of J.T. Shrout, but we still don’t fully know what he’s capable of at the Collegiate level — there is still a lot we need to learn about his game.
The Bottom Line
It’s up to the coaches to decide who will take the first snap for Tennessee on September 5th, and whether they decide that the experience of Jarrett Guarantano is more valuable or that Harrison Bailey’s potential is too much to pass up, there is no doubt that there is momentum behind this program right now. Jeremy Pruitt and Jim Chaney have to select the quarterback who in their view will have the best chance to continue that momentum rather than squander it.