Football season is quickly approaching, and Tennessee’s goals are already clear. Though they might ultimately be bigger than this, the Volunteers have their sights set on one thing to start 2023 — winning the division.
Interestingly enough, this will be the last season with divisions in the SEC as Texas and Oklahoma join the league in 2024. For now though, Tennessee’s path runs through a division title.
“The goal will be to win the SEC East,” Tennessee tight end Jacob Warren said last week at SEC Media Days. “If you do that, that sets you up to go do everything you want. Opportunity to play in the SEC championship, get the opportunity if you win that to go play in the national championship. Obviously the College Football Playoff is going to look different here the next few years. If we win those games, you set yourself up for everything you want. That’s what he means when he says we didn’t get the job done.”
Tennessee actually ended up with a path to the College Football Playoff without winning the division last year. The Volunteers would have made their first appearance in the four-team field had they taken care of business against South Carolina on the road. However, as you know, Tennessee’s championship aspirations ended right there on that field, along with Hendon Hooker’s Tennessee career.
“We had a great season,” Warren continued. “A lot of people outside the program wouldn’t have expected us to have won 11 games last year, go to New Year’s Six bowl, win the Orange Bowl. Maybe not nobody, but a lot of people weren’t expecting that, right? A lot of people from the outside would say, That’s a good job, you probably reached all your goals, did everything you were looking out to do. It’s not the case.”
Tennessee ended up smacking Vanderbilt and throttling Clemson in the Orange Bowl to end the year. Those two games were crucial moments for the program, finishing off a strong season as good as they could have. They were able to put the South Carolina debacle behind them at a moment where things certainly could have fallen apart.
That response restored confidence in this staff, setting them apart from coaches in the past. Now with a reload seemingly complete, Heupel and company appear set to try and improve in 2023. Much-improved Joe Milton isn’t short on weapons, and Tim Banks’ defense is experienced with tons of added depth.
“Of course, that’s last year,” Warren said. “We’ve done a good job of resetting. But now the focus is on winning the SEC East and doing everything we can to get ourselves in that position.”