The Tennessee Volunteers were without quarterback Justin Worley for the first time all season in last Saturday’s showdown with Alabama, but the offense held its own in his absence despite falling 34-20 in Knoxville.

Nathan Peterman started the game under center, but was replaced by sophomore Joshua Dobbs after just two series. Dobbs ended up completing 19 of 32 passes with two touchdowns and an interception in his first action of the season, and could see more playing time going forward now that Tennessee has officially burned his redshirt.

With Worley’s health still questionable following Dobbs’ emergence against Alabama, Tennessee’s quarterback position remains a mystery heading into Week 10.

Who should the Vols start under center Saturday against South Carolina? Let’s find out.


Players involved: Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs, Nathan Peterman

Who will probably start: TBD

Who should start: Dobbs

All three quarterbacks in question were listed as co-starters on this week’s depth chart, but that could just be gamesmanship by UT head coach Butch Jones as he tries to force South Carolina to prepare for all three signal callers.

Ultimately, Worley’s health remains a question mark, but even if he’s healthy it’s time to hand over the offense to Dobbs. He’s a sophomore with a ton of upside, and at this point Tennessee has already burned his redshirt, costing him a year of eligibility whether he plays again this season or not.

Why take his redshirt for a near-certain loss to Alabama only to sit him for the rest of the season? When Jones threw Dobbs into the fire against the Tide, he was essentially beginning the “Dobbs Era” at Tennessee.

The Volunteers are a young team growing before our very eyes, but Worley is a senior with one foot out the door. If it turns out he’s healthy enough to play again this year, the team’s best-case scenario would be a 7-5 record and a mediocre bowl game. Granted, Tennessee hasn’t been to a bowl game of any kind since 2010, so perhaps a potential bowl berth is a reason to live in the here and now, but it’s not like Worley would be coming to the rescue as Tennessee aimed to earn a playoff spot or an SEC East title.

The Vols are building for the future, and anything achieved in the present is viewed in the context of how it will impact the future for better or worse. Dobbs is the future of the program, and he only has two years of eligibility left after this season. If he returns to the bench in favor of Worley, the senior will merely play out the string and Dobbs will have to start again from scratch this spring in building timing with his teammates and taking command of the offense.

Play him now, however, and he can find a rhythm with the offense heading into the offseason. In this scenario, Dobbs and UT could hit the ground running to start next year, perhaps resurrecting Tennessee’s legendary program if Dobbs can live up to the hype.

Worley’s time in Knoxville is essentially over, and while no one is questioning whether he’s the best quarterback on the team today, Tennessee’s program is not at a point where it can be concerned about today. Tennessee is concerned about the future growth of its program, and Worley doesn’t fit anywhere in that picture.

Not only does Dobbs fit that picture, he is that picture. Tennessee has a ton of talent on defense and at the skill positions, but it’ll all be for naught if Dobbs doesn’t pan out. The Vols need to maximize his time as the starter to continue moving the program in a positive direction, especially after he sat out UT’s first seven games for nothing in a season that will still count against his years of eligibility in the long run.

Dobbs won’t get those seven games back to lead Tennessee, so if he’s to be the guy to take the program to another level the time to start developing him in live action is now. Tennessee has four games left this season, and all four are winnable games against unranked SEC East foes (South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt). It would be stupid not to play Dobbs in the easiest stretch of UT’s SEC schedule, especially after burning his redshirt one week earlier against Tennessee’s toughest opponent of the year.

We don’t know what Jones is thinking or who is even healthy enough to play quarterback, but at the end of the day Dobbs is the only logical choice to start under center the rest of the season.