The State of the State: Tennessee Look at College Football Futures

August 17, 2023

Is Tennessee back for good or was last year a one-off aberration in Knoxville?

© Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The Volunteers were the surprise team in 2022, leading to big expectations this year

It had been a rough stretch at Tennessee prior to Josh Heupel’s arrival in 2021. The Volunteers had been to once bowl game in four seasons, but even that accomplishment was tarnished when the NCAA forced the program to vacate their seven victories from that campaign.

People were starting to long for the Butch Jones days, when at least nine wins seemed like a possibility. The glory years with Peyton Manning at quarterback, and then Tee Martin leading the Volunteers to a national championship, seemed like ancient history.

To some, it was hard to imagine those days ever returning to Knoxville. The sport had moved on. The conference had been taken over by Alabama, Georgia and LSU. While perhaps not an afterthought, Tennessee was no longer considered a powerhouse and/or contender.

Then, the 2022 season happened. It was a magic carpet ride that rejuvenated the program and its fan base.

Tennessee started the season unranked. But after ripping off eight-straight wins to start the season, including an upset of Alabama, the Vols were atop the polls heading into a showdown with Georgia.

That game didn’t go Tennessee’s way. Neither did a matchup two weeks later at South Carolina. But those were the only two blemishes on the season.

After knocking off Clemson in the Orange Bowl, the Volunteers finished an unlikely and impressive 11-2. They ended the season ranked in the top-10, putting them back in the conversation for SEC dominance and even a national title.

With Hendon Hooker gone, however, Heupel will have his hands full in trying to replicate what he did a year ago. Tennessee had the country’s best offense in 2022, a feat that will be tough to repeat without their dynamic quarterback.

Joe Milton will get the task of replacing Hooker, a QB that once replaced him in the lineup. Can he finally live up to the potential that led him to be a top recruit at Michigan? Tennessee’s season, and perhaps their resurgence, depends on it.

Bud Parmalee’s pick: Tennessee under 9.0 wins in 2023 (-120)

Even if everything goes the Vols way again, which seems unlikely without their Heisman-caliber quarterback, it’ll be tough to get to 10 wins. In order to do so, Tennessee is going to have to get a win at Florida, at Alabama or against Georgia. And they can’t stub their toe anywhere else, which will be dicey during a schedule that features the likes of South Carolina and Texas A&M.