Josh Heupel and Tennessee pretty much came out of nowhere to find seven wins in 2021. Heupel was facing a gutted roster upon arrival in Knoxville, but his spread, up-tempo offensive system proved to be an equalizer for the Volunteers.
Tennessee immediately got back to beating who they’re supposed to beat, climbing back to mid-pack in the SEC. Now with another full offseason to settle in, expectations are rising for Heupel in year two.
It’s only March, but you can already feel the momentum building on the Tennessee hype train for the fall. Brad Crawford of 247Sports is the latest to throw some gas on the fire, listing Tennessee as a ‘buy’ ahead of the 2022 season.
Here’s what he had to say.
Tennessee faced a twinge of offseason hype before and seasons didn’t go as planned, but this Volunteers squad heading into Josh Heupel’s second season feels different. This group was competitive against eventual national champion Georgia last fall and was in a single-possession game at then top-ranked Alabama in the second half. Almost means nothing in the SEC, but it does generate confidence at a program not accustomed to the national spotlight this decade. Tennessee faces a possibly-down Florida team with a first-year coach to close out September and could be unbeaten and inside the top 15 heading to LSU after an open week on Oct. 8. Buy the Volunteers before it’s too late. (247Sports)
Tennessee opens with Ball State, before making a trip north to face Pittsburgh, who will be replacing stud quarterback Kenny Pickett. A game against Akron comes ahead of a visit from the Florida Gators, which should be down in Billy Napier’s first season.
As Crawford said, a 4-0 start isn’t out of the question — it may even be the expectation. From there, a trip to LSU, to Georgia and a home game against Alabama will define the rest of the season, assuming the Volunteers can take care of the rest of the schedule where they should be favored.
We’ve been here before, dealing with expectations. This staff does feel a little different though, and senior quarterback Hendon Hooker will provide a steadying presence in year two under Heupel. The questions will come on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the secondary. More than likely though, Tennessee isn’t done adding to that position just yet, so no need to panic just yet.
Tennessee has a nice blend of competing in a weak division, along with plenty of returning talent. Expect more of this chatter throughout the summer months.