Most observers believe Ainge's successor will be his 2006 and 2007 backup, talented but relatively untested Jonathan Crompton. The former prep All-American from Waynesville, N.C., has all of the tools necessary to be outstanding. And, as a rising junior with a redshirt season under his belt, he has three years' experience in UT's system.
Crompton won't get the job by default, however. Nick Stephens, a rising sophomore from Flower Mound, Texas, may have the strongest arm on campus. And B. J. Coleman, a redshirt freshman from Chattanooga, reportedly has a tremendous head for the game.
Vol fans will be watching this spring's QB derby with great interest. So will Richard Cirminiello of collegefootballnews.com. Cirminiello lists UT No. 12 among his 20 most intriguing quarterback situations in an article called “2008 Spring Preview – The Big QB Battles.”
For what it's worth, Cirminiello lists four other SEC teams as having noteworthy QB quandaries. Kentucky (Curtis Pulley vs. Mike Hartline) checks in at No. 15, South Carolina (Stephen Garcia vs. Chris Smelley) at No. 11, LSU (Ryan Perrilloux vs. Jarrett Lee and Andrew Hatch) at No. 10 and Auburn (Kody Burns vs. Chris Todd) at No. 6.
Here's what Cirminiello has to say about the Vols' quarterback situation:
12. Tennessee – While junior Jonathan Crompton is the presumed successor to Erik Ainge, redshirt freshman B.J. Coleman and sophomore Nick Stephens won’t fade away without a fight. One of the premier quarterbacks from 2005, Crompton has overcome shoulder surgery and patiently waited for this chance to lead the offense. A 6-4, 230-pounder, he’s got a strong arm and isn’t afraid to run through defenders. Coleman and Stephens are a pair of four-star gems from the 2007 and 2006 classes, respectively, that show good feet in the pocket and have a lot of zip on their passes. New coordinator Dave Clawson has no prior allegiances, making for a more wide-open competition.
The Pre-Spring Best Guess Starter Will Be ... Jonathan Crompton