It hasn’t taken Josh Heupel very long to get Tennessee back to where they should be. In just two short years, Heupel has already won a New Year’s Six game and gotten the Volunteers back to a No. 1 ranking. Now with the recruiting foundation laid, Tennessee is in a pretty nice spot going forward.
ESPN has taken notice. During the college football offseason, ESPN has ranked programs in a variety of different ways — offense, defense and quarterback. Now with all of that done, the numbers have been averaged out for one final future power ranking.
Tennessee slotted in at No. 9 overall. Here’s Adam Rittenberg on the Volunteers.
The excitement is real on Rocky Top after an 11-2 season in which the Vols finished No. 6 in the polls. Coach Josh Heupel’s challenge is to sustain success in the relentless SEC. Tennessee hasn’t recorded consecutive 10-win seasons since 2003 and 2004, and last had back-to-back AP top-10 finishes in 1998 and 1999. Heupel’s offense will always give the Vols a chance, though, as they rank second nationally in scoring during the past two seasons.
Tennessee is obviously moving on from Hendon Hooker, Cedric Tillman and Jalin Hyatt. But they’re well positioned to do so with Joe Milton, Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton, Squirrel White and Dont’e Thornton. Even looking further down the road, Tennessee should be set up for the next several seasons with Nico Iamaleava and Jake Merklinger set to take over the quarterback room.
How high Tennessee rises will depend on whether its defense makes the necessary personnel upgrades. The recent recruiting and portal gains are encouraging, as Tennessee signed six ESPN 300 defenders in the 2023 class, headlined by end Chandavian Bradley (ESPN’s No. 84 overall). The Vols also added transfers such as linebacker Keenan Pili (BYU), cornerback Gabe Jeudy-Lally (BYU) and lineman Omarr Norman-Lott (Arizona State).
Tennessee has also made huge strides defensively, bulking up the talent and depth at all three levels. The Vols have stocked up on long, explosive edge rushers, landing Josh Josephs, James Pearce, Caleb Herring and Chandavian Bradley in recent cycles. They’ve restocked their linebacker depth, while adding a number of blue-chippers at cornerback.
They’re not at the pure talent level of an Alabama, Georgia or Ohio State, but that could change over the next few years. Per 247Sports, Tennessee has the 10th ranked class in the 2024 cycle. They landed the 11th ranked class in 2023.
Georgia took the top spot in the rankings, followed by Alabama at No. 2. Ohio State, Michigan and LSU rounded out the top five. Tennessee was the fourth ranked team in the SEC, followed by future in-conference foes Oklahoma (12) and Texas (15).