No more Hendon Hooker, Cedric Tillman or Jalin Hyatt — will Tennessee rebuild or reload? The roster certainly is far from empty, but some new faces are going to have to step into massive roles for the Volunteers in 2023.
Luckily for us and the rest of the country, Tennessee provided a preview of those changes in the Orange Bowl. We definitely had some questions going in, but the Vols thrashed Clemson 31-14, easing plenty of concerns going forward.
Quarterback Joe Milton wasn’t flawless, but made enough big throws down the field to put up 30 points on a really good defense. Tennessee’s defense actually stole the show, powered by a huge night from linebacker Aaron Beasley.
Very quickly, some concerns turned to optimism. Tennessee has a massive wildcard in play with Milton, who has yet to put all the pieces together. If he ever does, look out. Milton has always had the arm, but the touch was lacking. Now entering year three with Josh Heupel, he’s got a firm grasp of the offense, and his weapons aren’t lacking either. Tennessee doesn’t need Milton to be perfect, as Hendon Hooker nearly was, but Heupel and Joey Halzle are going to need him to be consistently accurate down the field.
At least against Clemson in a big spot in the Orange Bowl, Milton delivered. And let the hype train roll. (As a side note, just keep in mind, if Milton doesn’t play with consistency, five-star freshman Nico Iamaleava is waiting. The two will battle this spring.)
Tennessee has landed at No. 5 in Fox Sports’ pre-spring ball poll, which came out last week. The Volunteers were the second ranked team in the SEC, trailing only Georgia. Alabama came in at 6th, while LSU checked in at 18th.
A No. 5 ranking feels a touch rich for Tennessee here, but coming after the Orange Bowl, it’s understandable. Here’s a look at the complete top 25.
Fox Sports’ Spring Top 25
3. Ohio State
7. Penn State
12. Notre Dame
13. Kansas State
19. Oregon State
25. Texas Tech