No. 16 Tennessee is looking to continue on an ascent in year 3 of the Jeremy Pruitt era. In Pruitt’s first season at the helm, the Volunteers finished 5-7. Last season, Tennessee improved to 8-5. In order for another leap, ESPN analyst David Pollack believes QB Jarrett Guarantano is the biggest key.

The fifth-year senior is coming off an up-and-down 2019 campaign in which he was benched. Overall, the 6-4, 230-pound quarterback hasn’t been outstanding but has shown flashes. Guarantano’s 415 passing yards last season against Missouri marked only the third time a Tennessee quarterback cracked 400+ passing yards, according to ESPN.

In 34 games, Guarantano has amassed 5,062 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.

Pollack cites Cade Mays and Trey Smith as anchors along the offensive line who will enable Guarantano the opportunity to finally reach his potential.

“Jarrett Guarantano is the key. The whole season revolves around him. I think Tennessee’s defense is going to be good. They bring back (Henry) To’oto’o in the linebacking corps and so many good players,” Pollack said on the CFB Podcast with Herbie, Pollack and Negandhi. “Tennessee has a shot to be really good but it’s all going to revolve around the quarterback and can they take that next step.”

Now that Guarantano has developed some continuity with returning offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, his comfort level has increased dramatically.

“I’m not overthinking many things,” Guarantano said to ESPN. “I’m able just to read coverages and go through my progressions without having my thought process change throughout the whole thing. It’s definitely more easygoing and it’s way easier on my mind and my body going through some things.”

Guarantano elected to return for a fifth season instead of transferring because of the motivation to cap off his career at Tennessee on a positive note, starting on Saturday at South Carolina (4:30 p.m. EST/SEC Network).

“There’s no place that I would rather be, honestly,” Guarantano said to ESPN. “Of course, there’s been ups and downs and in life you experience many ups and downs, so it was nothing for me. There were some things I had to grow and learn from, and I wouldn’t undo any of this, honestly.”