Tennessee’s Josh Heupel and Joe Milton after a win in the Orange Bowl. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.
With Georgia taking home their second-straight college football national championship to start the week, the 2022-2023 college football season is officially in the rearview mirror.
As the week has gone on, both college football fans and media members from the sport have been going back and forth with season-ending coverage. That includes way-too-early predictions, season recaps, and anonymous coaching quotes.
ESPN Senior Writer Adam Rittenberg compiled some fascinating quotes from around the college football world this week, with a few directed toward Josh Heupel and the Tennessee Volunteers.
“They’re legit,” one SEC coordinator said about Tennessee via ESPN and Rittenberg. “Their defense is more talented than people give them credit for. And that offense, it’s a beast. I don’t know if they’ll be as talented because the Hyatt kid was super special and Hendon Hooker was 25 years old. He should have been a Heisman finalist.”
Tennessee posted a final record of 11-2 with a win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl. The Vols’ offense was the most-productive unit in the country with 525.5 yards per game and nearly 80 touchdowns on the season. While Tennessee’s defense didn’t tear up the schedule by any stretch, the Vols’ bend-but-don’t-break-type of defense proved to be incredibly valuable at different points in the season.
“What you saw they did in the bowl game with a lot of their backups, they kicked Clemson’s ass,” the anonymous coordinator continued on to say.
More from RTI: Vols Freshman Quarterback Enters Transfer Portal
Tennessee defeated Clemson by a score of 31-14 with a number of key players out including Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman, and Jeremy Banks. That allowed future superstars such as Squirrel White, Aaron Beasley, and Joe Milton III to shine.
Still, though, that was last year. As previously mentioned, Tennessee won’t have Hooker or Hyatt the next time they step out onto the field. While that didn’t prove to be an unsurmountable task in the Orange Bowl, the upcoming regular season is a totally different animal.
“It will be interesting to see what Tennessee does a year later: Are they better or worse?” an anonymous SEC assistant said via ESPN and Rittenberg. “[Heupel] has always been pretty consistent running that scheme. Is it Milton or is it the guy that everybody knows you’re paying $2 million a year? Does that create problems in the locker room?”
The guy that is being referenced there from the anonymous assistant is five-star quarterback prospect Nico Iamaleava. The mega-talented 6-foot-5 quarterback committed to Tennessee last spring, signed with the Vols in December, and was with the team during bowl preparation throughout the month.
Milton’s play in the Orange Bowl (19-of-28, 251 yards, 3 touchdowns) does give some sort of relief going into the offseason for Tennessee. Clemson isn’t Vanderbilt, and Milton proved that he could lead Tennessee to a Top 10 win against a talented team with an improved skill set. Still, though, Iamaleava is right there and already has the attention of the Tennessee fanbase and the college football world.
We know that it will pretty much just be Milton and Iamaleava in competition after the news on Friday, though. Tennessee freshman quarterback Tayven Jackson has entered the transfer portal and will be looking for a new program for the next year.
There are plenty of storylines to watch this offseason regarding the Tennessee football team.