The up-and-down adventure of Jarrett Guarantano’s 2019 season has been the focal point of the Vols’ campaign this year. And it looks like the veteran signal caller may be returning to Tennessee next season after it was all but assumed he would transfer just a month ago.
According to David Ubben of The Athletic, Guarantano has a decision to make this offseason, but it’s not about whether or not he’ll transfer. Per Ubben’s sources, Guarantano does not plan to transfer off the Vols’ roster, and the only way he’ll be leaving Knoxville in 2020 is if he declares for the NFL Draft.
“Guarantano, a redshirt junior, earned his degree last December and would be immediately eligible wherever he chose to play, but he’s uninterested in pursuing a transfer anywhere,” Ubben writes. “The only decision he plans to make is whether to return to Tennessee or enter the NFL Draft early, a person familiar with the decision told The Athletic.”
Assuming Guarantano doesn’t get the draft grade back that he wants from NFL representatives, the New Jersey native will return to Tennessee for a fifth and final season in 2020.
Guarantano began this season as Tennessee’s starting quarterback, but that only lasted a month after a disastrous beginning to the year. The Vols’ 1-3 start wasn’t all because of Guarantano’s play, but it was clear that the redshirt junior was struggling and was playing much worse than he did as a third-year sophomore.
In three games against FBS opponents (all losses), Guarantano had just four touchdown passes and four interceptions. That decline in play and his poor decision-making led head coach Jeremy Pruitt to bench him in the bye week in favor of true freshman Brian Maurer.
Maurer would start the next three games for Tennessee, but he exited all of them early due to injury. Guarantano came off the bench in all three games, playing a handful of snaps against Georgia, helping the Vols’ offense seal away the victory against Mississippi State, and playing over half the game against Alabama.
But it was after that Alabama contest where most thought Guarantano’s future had been decided.
Following the most talked about play of Tennessee’s season — a fumble at the goal line after what appeared to be a massive miscommunication with his offense — most fans and media members alike assumed Guarantano would be transferring at the end of the season. That catastrophic play and the decision leading up to it certainly seemed like the final straw.
Instead, Guarantano met with Pruitt the following day and apologized to him and the team for the play. After that, things seemed to completely turn around for the fourth-year junior.
Guarantano came off the bench in Tennessee’s win over South Carolina and played his best game of the season up to that point, completing 11 of his 19 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. He suffered a wrist injury in that game, and he’s sported a white brace and glove ever since that contest.
JT Shrout would start against UAB the following week and Maurer would get the start again in Tennessee’s road contest against Kentucky, but Guarantano pitched relief in both of those games and outplayed the starter in both.
Finally, Guarantano’s redemption arc was completed after the Vols’ second and final bye week when he was named the starter against Missouri on the road. And the much-maligned signal caller put together a historic performance.
Tennessee beat Missouri 24-20 thanks in large part to Guarantano’s 415 passing yards and two touchdowns. He became only the third quarterback in UT history to throw for over 400 yards in a game, joining Tyler Bray and Peyton Manning as the only Vol QBs to ever do so.
Last week, Guarantano came back down to earth, going 0-for-7 with an interception on his first seven throws before finishing 6-of-17 for 120 yards and a touchdown in a rain-soaked win against Vanderbilt. But it’s clear that Guarantano is in a better spot now than he was two months ago, and he appears to be the favorite to start at quarterback for the Vols next season.
Assuming he doesn’t go pro, that is.