Prior to the Tennessee Vols’ recent three game winning streak, it was hard to scan social media without seeing a theory about redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano’s potential transfer destination in 2020.
Guarantano, who has already graduated from Tennessee, will be eligible to play anywhere he wants in 2020 as a grad transfer.
The popular guess was that Guarantano would end up at Rutgers next season. It would make a lot of sense. Guarantano is from New Jersey and his father, a former wide receiver, is in the Rutgers Hall of Fame.
However, thanks to Guarantano’s contributions to UT’s success over the last few weeks, the discussion about where he’ll play next year has dwindled a bit.
That’s because Guarantano is now a key reason the Vols are in a position to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2016.
And he could be a key part of their success next season, too.
A month ago, I would’ve never imagined that I’d be arguing that Guarantano should return to Tennessee in 2020. In fact, I probably would’ve laughed at the idea.
But here I am, just a month later, fully believing that it would be best for Tennessee if Guarantano spends his redshirt senior season on Rocky Top.
Sports has a way of humbling everyone.
Why it makes sense for Tennessee to want JG back in 2020
The argument against bringing Guarantano back next season is pretty much centered on the three young quarterbacks the Vols are expected to have next season — Brian Maurer, JT Shrout and Harrison Bailey (assuming he signs with the Vols this winter, which he’s expected to do) — along with walk-on Maryland transfer Kasim Hill (who has previously torn both ACLs and is kind of a wildcard for UT).
Here’s the problem with that argument: none of those quarterbacks (outside of Hill, who, again, is a wildcard) have actually experienced much success.
Sure, Maurer has looked pretty good in limited action. And he provided a much needed spark for the Vols when he started against Mississippi State. But he’s yet to finish a game he’s started.
As for Shrout, the coaching staff hasn’t showed much faith in him yet (and he’s been in the program for almost two years now). The arm talent is certainly there for Shrout, but there’s no guarantee he’ll develop into a dependable SEC quarterback.
And then there’s Bailey. He’s expected to be Tennessee’s savior. Maybe their next Peyton Manning.
There’s no doubt that Bailey has the talent to be great. And I’d bet on him being great. I believe in his abilities. But he still has to prove it and actually do it. Nothing in college football is certain. Can’t miss recruits often turn into busts. I’m not expecting that from Bailey, but it would be foolish to think it’s not a possibility.
That’s why Tennessee could use Guarantano on the roster next season. I’m not suggesting that Guarantano is handed the starting job next fall. Maybe Maurer or Bailey will be the best option. Maybe Hill will surprise some folks and have a strong spring and fall camp. It has to be an open competition.
Regardless of who is named the starter, the Vols will, at some point, need some experienced quarterback depth in 2020. Rarely does a college quarterback make it through the season unscathed. Tennessee has started four players at quarterback this season. It’s plausible they could be in the same boat next season.
That’s where Guarantano comes in.
Guarantano has matured a lot during his time at Tennessee. He went from “pouting” on the sideline when he didn’t play against Georgia Tech in the 2017 opener, to being the equivalent of Tennessee’s “sixth man” this season. Guarantano lost his starting job and has still played a crucial role for the Vols. And he’s played better in that role.
Jeremy Pruitt says Jarrett Guarantano coming off the bench the last few weeks has been in part because of his limited reps during practice, because of his hand. Also noted his age and experience make him more suited to do that than Shrout/Maurer.
— David Ubben (@davidubben) November 13, 2019
Through all the negativity this season, Guarantano has kept a positive attitude. And he’s been a good teammate. He’s also been receptive to hard coaching.
In short, he’s been a good leader, despite some bad decisions (the goal line audible against Alabama).
The Vols could use that leadership in 2020. And there’s a good chance they’ll need Guarantano’s abilities in 2020.
If Guarantano wants a guaranteed starting job next season, then he should probably transfer.
But if he wants to be a part of Tennessee taking the next step under Pruitt, then he should stick around and help the Vols try to improve their win/loss record next season.
I didn’t think I’d be saying this, but I’m confident that Tennessee’s 2020 squad will be better if Guarantano is on the roster.
Great athletes keep working through adversity so they can prove folks like me wrong.
And Guarantano has certainly proved me wrong with his play since losing his starting job.
Featured image via Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports