Coming off of an 11-2 season, expectations have returned to Knoxville. Josh Heupel’s offensive is rolling, and he already proved that he can win big time games at the SEC level. Now he’s tasked with turning over a roster and doing it again.
Phil Steele, one of the most respected analysts in the college football world, thinks Heupel will keep it rolling.
“Remember, in last year’s magazine, I forecasted Tennessee was going to have 45 points per game. And what’d they do? 46 points per game. First 11-win season since 2001. What a great year. And I don’t think it slows down,” Steele said on Josh and Swain. “I think you’re going to see Tennessee as the legitimate contender to Georgia in the SEC East this year.”
Tennessee got past Pittsburgh early in the year, then rolled through both Florida and LSU. They marked their arrival back on the big stage with the win against Alabama, but didn’t quite have enough to hang with Georgia.
They’ll face similar challenges this year — the usual in SEC football.
“You look at the schedule this year? Tennessee’s going to be a dog at Alabama, they’re going to be a dog at home against Georgia. If you’re going to win the East? You’ve got to beat Georgia at home. That would be the key,” Steel said. “But I think this team is very capable of getting back to double digit wins this year, despite losing a player like Hendon Hooker.”
When you talk Tennessee in 2023, the conversation begins with Joe Milton. We’re all pulling for him after he stuck around and went to work behind Hooker. But those inconsistencies we saw in 2021 are tough to shake.
Milton did show big improvement in limited time in 2022, however. He certainly has the physical tools to make it all happen, but whether or not he can put it all together for a full season remains to be seen.
“I think, when you look at Tennessee, of course the big question mark is you lose a Hendon Hooker, who had just two interceptions all year,” Steele said. “That’s a key number if you’re a Tennessee fan. Circle that number. If Joe Milton can come near that? Then look out. Milton’s got the size, the arm strength. Everything you want in an NFL quarterback. And he’s in the perfect offense.
“He’s now in his third year of the offense, he’s got a good supporting cast, three starting offensive linemen back. Despite losing a guy like Hyatt at the receiver spot, they’ve got McCoy, they add in Dont’e Thornton. The running backs are very deep. And the defense showed a lot of improvement last year. They improved by a touchdown per game. I think they’ll continue to show improvement.”
You can watch the entire interview with Steele on Josh and Swain below.