So far in year one, Josh Heupel has passed the on-field test with flying colors. The Volunteers are 4-4 on the year, but there’s plenty of evidence that this shorthanded roster is better coached than they were a year ago. That’s probably putting it lightly.
Tennessee blew the doors off of South Carolina and Missouri, took Ole Miss to the final play and took Alabama to the fourth quarter. Heupel’s year one Vols need some more ammunition to finish off the really good teams, but the foundation is being laid before our eyes.
Heupel has taken Tennessee from the basement to the top 25 in total offense, and the defense leads the power five in tackles for loss. His stamp is already on this program, and that makes recruiting that much easier for he and his staff.
“You’re selling what you’ve done at previous places, and you’re selling why you know it’s going to happen here at UT,” Heupel said, speaking of recruiting before taking the field. “Now that they get an opportunity to see the product on the football field, they know that those things ring true — the ability to play extremely aggressive on all three phases of the game, our defense leading the country in tackles for loss, offensively the tempo and the aggressiveness and the balance that we’re going to have in the run and the pass game.
“The product is starting to sell itself, and I say that meaning that they understand what they’re going to be playing, and there’s a ton of excitement from recruits. It’s a completely different feel when you have something that you’re able to show them that they can see.”
Tennessee fired Jeremy Pruitt near the end of the coaching carousel, putting Heupel’s staff in a tough spot for the 2022 class. You’re always going to be playing catch-up when you take a new job, but Heupel was hardly even able to add anything to his 2021 class.
From there, Heupel dealt with the COVID restrictions and looming NCAA investigation. Everything has been stacked against his staff upon arrival on the recruiting side, and with the early signing period now less than two months away, it’s going to be interesting to see how much ground they can make up.
They’ve got four more games (plus a likely bowl matchup) to prove themselves, starting with a huge game against Kentucky. That’s four more chances to put your product on display, four more chances to showcase your program’s aggression, tempo and ability to light up the scoreboard.
“They know we’re going to play fast — not just in tempo, but the way our kids are able to cut it loose,” Heupel said. “They know we’re going to call it aggressive in all three phases of the football game. It’s something that is really attractive to players. The ability for them to see the environment inside of Neyland Stadium like it was a week ago and has been early in the season is a huge part of the recruiting push that we’ve been able to make, too.”
For the reasons mentioned above, it’s not fair to judge Heupel’s ability to recruit with this 2022 class. He’s got a chance to hit on a few players down the stretch, but 2023 will be a much better measuring stick.
You can’t forget about the transfer portal here either. It’s a new world in college football and you can improve your roster in a hurry by attacking the ‘free agent’ market. This is something this staff did well this offseason, plugging depth issues with guys like Juwan Mitchell, Brandon Turnage, Kamal Hadden, Caleb Trembley, Da’Jon Terry and others. Expect that to continue at several different positions, with the recruiting pitch remaining the same.
The early signing period begins on December 15th, and the traditional signing day is set for February 2nd.