The biggest debate of this offseason for Tennessee will be who gets the starting nod at quarterback come fall – junior Quinten Dormady or redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano.
Over the past few decades Tennessee’s had a tendency to give the starting nod to the young talent on the roster. So in the spirit of the QB battle and discussion coming this offseason and spring, we took a look back at some of the young quarterbacks who led the Vols in their time at Tennessee.
In 1992, sophomore quarterback Heath Shuler would take the reins of the offense and lead the Vols to a 9-3 season. Despite controversy at the head coaching position, Shuler was able to maintain focus on the field and lead the team to a successful season and win in the Hall of Fame bowl over No. 16 Boston College. In 1993 Shuler and the Vols would go 9-2-1, outscoring opponents 484-175 on the season, and tying No. 2 Alabama, beating No. 22 Georgia and No. 13 Louisville.
Shuler would also go on to be a Heisman Trophy runner up and enter into the NFL following his junior season where he would be selected with the third overall pick.
Due to two injuries during the 1994 season, the man we all know, love and can’t get enough of, freshman quarterback Peyton Manning was thrust into action against Mississippi State. Manning would play the rest of the season as the starter and end his first season with a 6-2 record as a starter and a win in the Gator Bowl over No. 17 Virginia Tech.
As a sophomore Manning would lead the Vols to an 11-1 record and win in the Citrus Bowl over Ohio State and finish the year ranked No. 2 in the Coaches Poll and No. 3 in the AP. In 1996 Manning led the Vols to a 10-win season and another bowl victory. Despite having big NFL hype around his name, Manning would decide to stay for his senior season on Rocky Top. In his final season with the Vols he would lead the team to an 11-2 record, a victory in the SEC championship over No. 11 Auburn, but a loss to No. 2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Manning, like Shuler before him, would be a Heisman finalist and selected in the first round of the NFL draft – No. 1 overall.
The 2000 season saw another freshman earn a starting role with the Vols. After AJ Suggs started the first four games of the season with a 2-2 mark, true freshman Casey Clausen was given the starting nod and finished out the year with a 6-1 record and a loss in the Cotton Bowl. In Clausen’s sophomore campaign he would lead the Vols to an 11-1 record with a chance to play into the National Championship Game, but a loss to LSU in the SEC Championship game sent Tennessee to the Citrus Bowl against No.17 Michigan.
In 2002, the hype train was rolling for Tennessee after being title contenders, but Tennessee would take a step back and only get to an 8-4 record and a loss in the Peach Bowl to No. 20 Maryland. Clausen bounced back in 2003, his senior season, and guided the Vols to a 10-3 record.
In 2004, after a three-man QB battle, true freshman Erik Ainge beat out fellow freshman Brent Schaeffer and redshirt Junior Rick Clausen. Ainge would help lead the Vols to a 10-3 record and win in the Cotton Bowl against Texas A&M. The 2005 season saw a step back where the Vols would go 5-6, but due to some injuries, Ainge would only play in eight games.
Heading into his junior year, Ainge was named the full-time starter heading into spring practice and he would go on to lead the Vols to a 9-4 record and would throw for 2989 yards and 19 touchdowns. His 2007 campaign saw another rise in production as he threw for 3522 yards and 31 touchdowns, leading the Vols to a 10-4 record and a win in the Outback Bowl over Wisconsin. Ainge went on to be drafted in the fifth round by the New York Jets.
The 2010 season saw another freshman quarterback earn the starting nod – Tyler Bray. Bray got the start in the Memphis game in Week 10, and helped the Vols to a 50-14 victory. Bray would lead the Vols to a 4-0 record in his first season with Tennessee, but would lose the bowl game to North Carolina. In his 2011 season the Vols went 5-7 but Bray would only play in seven – going 4-3 in those contests. In those seven games Bray threw for over 1700 yards and 16 touchdowns.
In his junior and final season with the Vols Tennessee would again go 5-7, but Bray would put up incredible numbers in a high-flying offense – throwing for 3600 yards and 34 touchdowns on the season while also setting a record for most passing yards in a game by a Tennessee QB against Troy throwing for 530 yards.
None of that history guarantees anything for Jarrett Guarantano, or any other quarterback in the 2017 race. The best man will win the job. But the Vols do have a rich history of young players getting opportunities at the position and making the most of it, so the fact that Guarantano has yet to see the field at Tennessee shouldn’t prevent him from having a shot at the job in 2017.