11-2, a flirtation with the College Football Playoff, a dominant Orange Bowl win over Clemson — Josh Heupel has set the bar pretty high at Tennessee in just two short seasons. Now entering year three, Heupel is tasked with backing that performance up, and he’ll have to do it with a bit of a reloaded roster.
Heupel turns to Joe Milton, who will get his third chance as a starter this year. How far can he take the Volunteers in 2023? His consistency will be the key, and most analysts think Tennessee will take a small step backwards.
In the first batch of college football bowl projections from ESPN, the publication projected Tennessee to a couple of New Year’s Day games.
Mark Schlabaugh: Reliaquest Bowl vs. North Carolina
Kyle Bonagura: Cheez-It Citrus Bowl vs. Wisconsin
The Reliaquest Bowl is the old Outback Bowl, for reference. Tennessee is no stranger to Tampa, playing in the game back in 2006, 2007 and 2016. They have not appeared in the Citrus Bowl since 2002.
Both of these matchups are a step below the New Year’s Six grouping, which is where Tennessee landed last season. This would suggest Tennessee goes 8-4 or 9-3, which would be under the Vegas odds of 9.5 wins.
More than likely, Tennessee’s season will come down to meetings with Georgia and Alabama. You’ll likely have to win one of those games to make it into the College Football Playoff, in addition to taking care of all the games they should win — like Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and Texas A&M. We know Tennessee nearly did this last year, but ultimately fell short against the Gamecocks.
Other Bowl Projections of Note from ESPN
National Title: Georgia vs. Alabama or Georgia vs. Michigan
Semi (Rose): Michigan vs. Alabama or Michigan vs. USC
Rest of NY6
Fiesta: Utah vs. Penn State or Washington vs. Tulane
Peach: LSU vs. Tulane or Clemson vs. Alabama
Orange: Clemson vs. Ohio State or Florida State vs. Penn State