Breaking Down the Buzz: Tennessee

Even Smokey's guess at who will quarterback the Vols is as good as yours. (USATSI)
Even Smokey's guess at who will quarterback the Vols is as good as yours. (USATSI)
Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday the Eye on College Football examines what current hot topic the fans of one BCS team are obsessing over -- rationally or not -- in Breaking Down the Buzz. Today's team: the Tennessee Volunteers .

What they're talking about is ... quarterbacks, go figure. Take a glance over a Tennessee message board like GoVols247's the Checkerboard or VolNation and there's a wide variety of topics under discussion, ranging from recruiting (of course) to basketball (new coach! he's swell!) to smack-talk-related Vanderbilt discussion.

But there's also a handful of threads devoted to a topic that's going to remain a topic until at least the first game of the Volunteers' 2014 season, and probably beyond: what to do under center. Butch Jones oversaw the rare four-way quarterback battle during spring practice, as senior Justin Worley, sophomores Josh Dobbs and Nathan Peterman and redshirt freshman Riley Ferguson all took their shot at the starting gig. And when the dust from spring camp had settled, the answer was ... that Worley and Ferguson and possibly Dobbs were still right in the mix, with Peterman not eliminated just yet.  

With a brutal schedule, both lines in flux, and several other major personnel questions to answer, it's impossible to imagine the Vols ending their now three-season bowl drought (much less make any real SEC East headway) without solid-to-actually-good quarterbacking play. Spring camp ended in late April, but this being the most critical issue for a team with a desperately success-starved fanbase, you can safely expect the discussion to rage on through the summer.

What they're saying is ... surprisingly sensible? Oh, not everything makes a whole lot of sense; this is the world of college football Internet message boards, after all. Many of the most recent comments on this 14-page thread on Ferguson's chances center on the importance of his tattoos. (Consensus, thankfully, is that they're a non-issue.)

But the typical message board approach is for fans to flock like swallows to one particular contender -- usually the unproven one, natch -- and disregard any evidence suggesting the coaches might opt for a different one. That's not the case either in the above thread or this Ferguson-centric one from GoVols247, in which he, Dobbs and Worley all have their champions (sorry, Peterman) and expectations are ... dare we say it ... reasonable?

Por ejemplo:

• Given the current situation I think I'll be happy if we can get a full time starter and he can hit 2,500 yards and keep it under 15 INT's.

• This^^^^...I would take it!

• Y'all think Ferg's the starter because of his brilliant performance in the [spring game], right?

• Not even close. I predict Butch won't pick a starter until deep into fall camp. Maybe not even until the week before [Week 1 opponent] Utah State.

• I'm really curious to see how this plays out as well. Part of me agrees with you, that we won't see a starter named until late. On the other hand with such a young O-Line, would leaving it up in the air that late hinder the ability of the line to gel properly? We saw how it worked out last year headed into the Florida game. If I remember correctly, wasn't a big problem the confusion between QB and Line?

If we don't have a starter named by mid-way through fall camp, I sure hope its a 1a and 1b situation. If its a 3 way race, I'll be very concerned.

• He's not naming a starter until Utah state week, IMO. Just like last year. Although, I guess it's possible he doesn't wait that long if one of them separates himself from the others. Probably ends up being Worley, IMO.

Guys, guys, you're on the Internet. Ferguson hasn't yet played a snap but had a terrific spring, boasts a huge arm, and even took a couple of mild shots at Alabama after signing with the Vols. You're supposed to assume he's a dark horse Heisman candidate if only Jones would just wake up and roll the dice with him over the senior -- BOOOOOORRRRING -- who led your team to a win over South Carolina and nearly beat Georgia last season. Come on.

What we think is ... yeah, it's probably Worley. But picking a quarterback might be more important than which quarterback gets picked. The good news for the Vols is that where 2013 was concerned, Jones didn't have much in the way of options; Dobbs was a true freshman, Worley took several weeks to get up to speed, Ferguson was either hurt and/or redshirting, and Peterman's single half of football against Florida ranked among the worst halves of quarterbacking seen in the SEC's recent memory. (Sorry, Nathan.) The current versions of Worley and Dobbs should both be dramatic improvements on last year's, and Ferguson might be better than either. Whereas in 2013 Jones couldn't choose correctly no matter what he did, in 2014 there's a chance he can't fail no matter what he does. 

But that half of Peterman's gets back to why the one Vol fan quoted above is right to be more antsy about Jones making a decision than what decision he happens to make. After Worley started 2013 slowly, Jones turned to Peterman for a shot in the arm against the Gators ... and after three first-half turnovers, lost by two touchdowns to a team that lost its starting quarterback in the first quarter and finished the year 4-8. Waffling over naming the starter just to waffle or making a change just for change's sake isn't productive, and having three or four potential starting candidates seems like the same sort of situation that tempted Jones into pulling the trigger on his backup too soon last season.

Jones may have learned from that mistake, of course. But it will bear close watching as the season draws near, and even begins -- whether you're a Volunteer fan or not.

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