Editor's note: The 2013 season was an incredible year for quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. There was a Heisman winner (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel), the conference's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns (Georgia's Aaron Murray) and a two-time national champion (Alabama's AJ McCarron). Then there was Auburn's Nick Marshall, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Missouri's James Franklin. Nearly all of those aforementioned signal-callers have departed, however. Still, someone will rise to the occasion to fill those spots, and that's why we're here to take stock of them as we head into the summer, counting them down from 14 to 1. Note that proven performers, even if they were not the unquestioned starter last season, figures heavily into these rankings. We continue with Day 4 of the countdown.
Stop me if you've heard this already: Tennessee has a quarterback battle on its hands. Yes, as described with both Vanderbilt and Kentucky previously, Tennessee will enter the fall without a clear-cut starter.
The Volunteers had four different players — Justin Worley, Joshua Dobbs, Nathan Peterman and Riley Ferguson — take snaps during the spring. While coach Butch Jones didn't announce any sort of depth chart, it's thought that Worley and Ferguson will begin the fall as the top two. Worley started seven games last year, but was inconsistent, completing 55.6 percent (109-for-196) of his attempts for 1,239 yards and 10 touchdowns. On the flip side, he also tossed eight interceptions. Once Worley injured his thumb in a loss to Alabama, Dobbs stepped in and started four games; statistically, he was a more accurate passer at 59.6 percent, but he threw three times as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (two).
Ferguson has never appeared in a college game, redshirting last season. But the hopes are high for the North Carolina native, as he's considered the most talented pure passer on the roster.
But a quarterback is only as good as those around him. In that regard, the Volunteers have as many bright spots as question marks. Where the latter comes into play is up front. Tennessee has to replace its entire offensive line, which included a pair of players taken in the NFL draft (Ju'Waun James and Zach Fulton) as well as another All-SEC performer in Antonio "Tiny" Richardson.
Here's the good news: The Volunteers welcome three new skill players that should jump-start its moribund offense. Last year, Tennessee ranked near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in almost every category you can think of. Jalen Hurd should help turn things around, as the 6-foot-3, 221-pound early enrollee at running back had 11 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown in the spring game. Josh Malone was every bit as dynamic, hauling in six passes for 181 yards. He'll be joined by junior college transfer Von Pearson, who caught 93 passes for 1,601 yards last season, to give the Volunteers a formidable 1-2 punch at receiver.
So that's the long and short of it.
The Volunteers have to develop chemistry on the offensive line quickly; if that happens, they'll have some playmakers to get the ball to.
Now they just have to find the trigger man to bring it all together.