If Tennessee believes in JT Daniels' potential, the Vols have to go all-in on the USC transfer quarterback
Regardless of what it might do to the program’s quarterback room, if JT Daniels is interested in coming to Tennessee and the coaching staff believes the signal-caller has what it takes to live up to his incredible potential, they have to immediately go all-in on the USC transfer.
If you missed the news, USC announced Daniels has entered the NCAA transfer portal, which was quickly followed by a report from Charles Powers of 247Sports naming Tennessee as “one of a few to watch” in the QB’s recruitment.
Tennessee already has a few connections to Daniels as Volunteer receivers coach Tee Martin helped recruit Daniels to USC and former Trojans receiver Velus Jones transferred to Rocky Top this offseason.
More so than ever before, college football is dictated by the quarterback position. Offenses around the nation are more open than ever and quarterbacks are being given more control on the field.
All you have to do is look around the SEC in recent seasons for evidence.
Death Valley might be where opponents’ dreams go to die as Les Miles once famously said, but before Joe Burrow showed up in Baton Rouge, LSU was the place where quarterbacks’ potential went to die. After inserting an elite passer and finding a way to utilize all the talent around him, LSU won a national championship in historic fashion.
Despite a few trips to Atlanta under Jim McElwain, Florida hasn’t been a true threat to win the SEC since Urban Meyer left Gainesville. The biggest reason for Florida’s lack of success has been one bust after another at the quarterback position. The Gators have had the defensive talent to compete in the SEC, but it wasn’t until Dan Mullen returned that quality quarterback play returned to The Swamp. Now Florida appears to be in a position to make a run at the College Football Playoff in 2020.
Even programs with established options at quarterback have continued to pursue and/or play other quarterbacks with higher ceilings due to the importance elite quarterbacks can have on championship contenders.
Jalen Hurts started nearly every game as a true freshman and was named 2016 SEC Offensive Player of the Year that season after leading Alabama to a 14-1 record and an appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Despite all of Hurts’ success in his debut season, Nick Saban signed Tua Tagovailoa to add another dimension to the offense. We all know that decision paid off a year later.
Clemson had an established starting quarterback in Kelly Bryant, but once Trevor Lawrence got to campus and proved to be the real deal, Dabo Swinney benched the senior for the true freshman. That decision was easy to question at the time given the fact Clemson had national title aspirations, but just like Alabama’s decision the previous season, going with the most talented quarterback proved to be the right move.
Georgia has also proven it’s not afraid to stack multiple elite quarterbacks in back-to-back signing classes, adding Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm and Justin Fields in consecutive years. The Bulldogs didn’t win a national title during those players’ careers, but they won the East 3 consecutive years and gave themselves a chance to climb college football’s mountaintop.
The 2020 Vols have depth at quarterback, but it’s fair to say Tennessee enters the season with uncertainty under center. At times, Jarrett Guarantano looks the part of an elite signal-caller, but just as often he appears incapable of simply executing Tennessee’s offense. After 3 years on the field, while the “light could come on” for the redshirt senior in 2020, it’s not unreasonable to think he’ll be as inconsistent as a senior as he has been his entire college career.
True freshman Harrison Bailey arrived on Rocky Top with a ton of hype and a lofty recruiting ranking. He was prolific in high school and led Marietta High School to a Georgia state title last season and could be the future at Tennessee, but he’s yet to prove he can play at a high level at the collegiate level.
Meanwhile, Daniels was named 2017 Gatorade National Player of the Year, Max Preps National Player of the Year, National High School Coaches Association Player of the Year and USA Today All-USA first team and threw for 12,014 yards, 152 TDs and 14 interceptions in 3 seasons for California high school power Mater Dei. Daniels then left Mater Dei a year early to enroll at USC and won the job immediately as a true freshman.
Daniels didn’t exactly light it up during his true freshman season, but the role wasn’t too big for him. He threw for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions and led USC to a 5-6 record. Not bad for a player who would have been a high school senior had he not enrolled following his junior season at Mater Dei.
If Daniels wants to become a Vol, the only question that matters is: Are Vols coaches more comfortable risking their fate on Bailey or Daniels?
Tennessee fans expect the program to compete in the SEC and that’s not going to happen until the Vols have a quality quarterback. Vol Nation isn’t the most patient fan base, either, so Pruitt won’t have many opportunities to land a quarterback of Daniels’ caliber before Tennessee proves it is a legitimate SEC contender.
Tennessee might not yet have a roster that’s comparable to the College Football Playoff contending programs listed above, but adding one of the nation’s most talented passers is the fastest way to get to get there.
If Tennessee’s staff believes Daniels belongs is in that class, they have to do everything they can to land him, otherwise the wait to reach its full potential will drag on.