Tennessee fans have had a love/hate relationship with quarterback Jarrett Guarantano ever since he announced his commitment to the Vols in a glitzy Times Square video.

While many fans enjoyed the brash coming-out statement, others recoiled at the “look at me” nature of the announcement. Fair or not, the perception to that group of fans was that Guarantano was a cocky kid who hadn’t proved anything … yet.

Or maybe the negative feelings started in the 2017 season-opener. Guarantano and Quinten Dormady battled for the starting spot throughout the summer, as they both hoped to be the man who replaced Joshua Dobbs, who led the Vols to 18 wins the past 2 seasons.

Dormady won the job, but Guarantano was expected to get some snaps against Georgia Tech. Instead, he didn’t hear his number called. The pesky ESPN cameras did him no favors, as it looked like Guarantano was sulking on the sidelines.

The bad tidings continued during that lost 2017 campaign, as Guarantano started 6 games, and the Vols finished 4-8, the worst season in Tennessee history.

The low point certainly came midway through the 2019 season, when an ill-fated decision at the goal-line at Alabama brought with it nearly universal scorn. Instead of handing the football off on 4th-and-goal from the 1 (which was the call), he attempted a QB keeper. The result was a fumble, and a 100-yard run back for a touchdown by the Crimson Tide, ending the Vols’ chances for an upset on a night they were very competitive against their biggest rival.

Guarantano had gone rouge.

Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt laid into Guarantano on the sidelines, matching the emotions of Tennessee fans from Memphis to Mountain City. You’d have won a lot of bets if you said that Guarantano would ever play for the Vols again, much less start.  This was his 4th year with the program. He wasn’t getting better.  Even worse, he was costing his team chances to win.

But a funny thing happened while Guarantano was expected to pack up his locker.

He won games.

Guarantano came off the bench to lead Tennessee to a victory over South Carolina. During that game, he broke his left wrist (his non-throwing hand). He had surgery, yet still was a big part of a Tennessee win a week later over UAB. Still coming off the bench, Guarantano helped the Vols win at Kentucky. He then regained the starting spot and beat Missouri and Vanderbilt. Finally, there was the memorable 4th-quarter comeback in the Gator Bowl victory over Indiana.

That was the Vols’ 6th consecutive victory, turning what was at one time looking like a 3-9 season into an 8-5 campaign.

“Let me tell you … Jarrett, he’s got thick skin. He’s been through the wars,” Pruitt said after the bowl game victory. “He knows the expectations that we have, that he has for himself. … When the game was on the line, that’s who we wanted in the game and you know what? He came through.”

Expectations have been always been high for Guarantano, a former 4-star recruit out of Oradell, New Jersey. And despite those late heroics in 2019, he has not always lived up to the hype. Guarantano still overthrows his share of receivers. He still makes poor decisions. But he’s a tough kid and it certainly seems like his teammates have his back. And starting on Sept. 26 at South Carolina, he has one more chance as a redshirt senior to make it happen.

Actually, with the new NCAA rules due to COVID-19, in theory Guarantano could now return for a 6th season.

That would be strange, yet somehow, oddly fitting for a college football career that no one has been able to predict.