The debate about who would win the starting quarterback job in 2015 really started in February of 2013--as soon as Butch Jones' first recruiting class was inked. For most of last season, Joshua Dobbs was the favorite. But after a horrendous performance against Vanderbilt, the tide of public opinion started shifting to Riley Ferguson, the only quarterback on the roster that no one had seen in live action. But Ferguson left the program over the summer, and the battle in fall camp has been between Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, and Dobbs.
But while the debate may rage on (as it has on our site as recently as yesterday), the battle is over. This afternoon, Butch Jones has named Justin Worley as Tennessee's 2015 starting quarterback. The backup position remains up for grabs between Peterman and Dobbs, and it is certainly possible that one of them could challenge for starts later this year, but this season will start as last season did, with Worley at the helm.
The news is likely not to bring joy. Worley is as much of a known as Tennessee has at the position, and he is known as a game-manager without notable arm strength or consistent accuracy. His 6.3 yards per attempt in 2013 were uninspiring, and he wasn't noteworthy in his ability to avoid turnovers.
What he did was lead the offense better than anyone else. Worley was at the helm in the second half against Georgia and the first half against South Carolina, probably the biggest bright spots in a bad year for the 2013 offense. Neither of those bright spots came from quarterback play in particular--the establishment of the running game and some excellent wide receiver play should and does receive most of the praise--but neither were the bright spots replicated with another quarterback against comparable defenses.
Naming Worley as starting quarterback means only that Peterman and Dobbs have not made the kind of improvement necessary to take the job away from him. And that might prompt questions about the development of quarterback talent or about the evaluation of quarterback talent (although Jones' second and third quarterback recruits are committed for 2015 and 2016). But, those questions aside, it is not a surprising choice. The best hope for Tennessee fans are that the vast increase in talent at the skill positions and another year of experience can outweigh the losses on the offensive line and allow the passing game to take a big step forward. And after some of our past experience with quarterback controversy, it's nice to have one guy.