Not that we expected him to say anything different, but Tennessee quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle confirmed that there will be an open competition to replace Hendon Hooker under center ahead of the 2023 season.
The obvious answer is Joe Milton, who will be entering his third year in the system this offseason. However, despite competing for five years in college football, Milton doesn’t have a ton of starting experience. The little bit that he has shined a light on some deficiencies as a passer, starting with inaccuracy down the field.
Still, his experience in the system gives him an immediate leg up. Five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava has already entered the picture and has been going through bowl practices. He’s setting his foundation for the spring, where he will already be somewhat up to speed and settled into college life.
And then there’s former four-star prospect Tayven Jackson, who will be entering his second season in the system. He lost half of his freshman season to a collarbone injury, but will be good to go for the spring.
“We’ll have a quarterback competition,” Halzle said during Orange Bowl media availability. “And it’s just like from the earlier question about the game, does that weigh in, absolutely, because what you do on the field, it matters as far as who’s playing. But yeah, we’ll have a quarterback competition this offseason and go from there.”
“They all understand that,” Halzle continued. “The conversation’s been had with all of them. They all understand that.”
Milton, who has been fantastic in mop-up duty all year long for Tennessee, will get his first true shot to put four quarters together as the starter this year on Friday night. He got the start against Vanderbilt, but the rain forced things to stay on the ground for much of the night. Facing Clemson’s defense, we’ll get a good look to see if he’s really improved from his brief starting stint in 2021.
The ‘bowl games don’t matter’ narrative has been growing for several years now, but make no mistake. This is a big spot for Milton.
“Game day is always a test, right?” he said. “But it’s not the situation where we’ve had the conversation with like, ‘Hey, this is your chance.’ Because why would you put that on him? It’s already the Orange Bowl against Clemson in front of thousands of people and national TV. There’s enough natural pressure that goes around it. He’s been great and I just look forward to watching him play Friday night.”
Obviously, Iamaleava can’t play on Friday night. This is going to be the full Joe Milton experience, and as much as Halzle wants to downplay it, it’s a big spot for the future sixth-year senior. He’s got a chance to take an early lead in the battle — or open the door wide open to chatter and speculation about 2023.