Tennessee head football coach Jeremy Pruitt appears determined to give UT fans a good sweat before naming a starting quarterback.
The Vols will begin the season against West Virginia on Sept. 1 in Charlotte, N.C., and Pruitt has yet to offer any kind of public hint regarding his starter.
Here’s one thing we know: the competition is between senior Keller Chryst, who arrived in June as a graduate transfer from Stanford, and redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano. Pruitt has talked up younger scholarship quarterbacks, but there’s not much to that.
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So who’s actually ahead in the race, Chryst or Guarantano? That depends upon the person you ask.
BetDSI, then MyBookie, recently made Chryst the favorite at -185 to start Tennessee’s season opener. Guarantano’s odds of winning the job were listed at +160.
Those numbers have since been pulled off the board, but they seemed a bit backward based on information from Tennessee’s summer workouts and the first two weeks of fall camp.
It makes sense for people to expect — or at least favor — Chryst to be the Vols’ starter. He’s older and has more experience than Guarantano, and Chryst has played in big games on teams competing to win the Pac-12.
It’s also unlikely Chryst transferred to Tennessee expecting to finish his senior season as a backup. He viewed Knoxville as a place where he can start in the SEC and showcase his ability to NFL scouts.
That could very well end up happening, but for Chryst to win the starting position, Guarantano will have to relinquish the reins. He finished last season as the starter and was pretty good down the stretch, despite the Vols’ 0-8 SEC record.
Guarantano impressed coaches during spring practice (while Chryst was still at Stanford), and his youth and potential have given Tennessee’s coaches reason to invest in the future. The Vols won’t turn back into an SEC powerhouse instantly, so a one-year, quick-fix such as Chryst might not make the most sense.
That doesn’t mean Guarantano has locked down the job for the entire season. Pruitt means it when he talks about needing his quarterbacks to be consistent and eliminate mistakes.
If Guarantano makes costly errors in the opener or later in the season during Tennessee’s brutal SEC gauntlet, expect the Vols to make a change. Chryst’s presence provides a nice insurance policy for Tennessee’s staff. Here were his numbers at run-heavy Stanford — steady, but not overly impressive.
In fact, seeing multiple starting quarterbacks from Tennessee at some point this season might be the safest bet.
Pruitt and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tyson Helton will continue to push both quarterbacks. Neither player has accomplished enough to just be given the job.
For now, that job is most likely in the hands of Guarantano, giving +160 value if you can find it on the betting market in the coming weeks. Just don’t expect Pruitt to tell you that until he has to.