We’re now just days away from yet another new era of football on Rocky Top. Josh Heupel has taken over at Tennessee, tasked with rebuilding the program after seeing a mass exodus via the transfer portal following Jeremy Pruitt’s exit.
He’ll be breaking in his new offensive system with new starters at every skill position on the offensive depth chart, making for a completely fresh start on that side of the ball. Let’s be honest — that was much needed.
Defensively Tennessee will be relying on a handful of transfers after losing so much from last year’s team. Middle linebacker Juwan Mitchell comes over from Texas and will be a vital piece for this unit, while Brandon Turnage and Kamal Hadden provide some much needed depth at cornerback. The Vols will have to find some production from guys without a ton of SEC experience at pass rusher, as Byron Young, Tyler Baron and Roman Harrison step up to the plate for their turns.
At USA Today, Tennessee checked in 12th in their initial SEC power rankings — understandably so. Here’s what the publication had to say about the Volunteers.
The Volunteers will be fun to watch, at least, as new hire Josh Heupel brings an exciting offense to a program in dire need of a new identity. There’s even a path to six wins and a bowl bid, though that would demand no missteps against the five easiest opponents on the schedule — Bowling Green, Tennessee Tech, South Carolina, South Alabama and Vanderbilt — along with an upset.
Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU and Florida made up the top five. Ole Miss, Kentucky, Missouri, Auburn, Mississippi State and Arkansas followed. Only South Carolina and Vanderbilt trailed Tennessee.
Ahead of the season — and considering what this group looked like last year — this is a fair ranking. However, it’s a totally new group in Knoxville, both on the coaching side and on the roster. Does Tennessee have enough firepower and depth to contend? No, they don’t. But it’s going to be interesting to see how they compete in the mid-tier SEC matchups, along with Pittsburgh.
Expectations are low coming in, but it seems like there’s been a real culture change already within the program. We’re about to find out what that culture change looks like on the field, along with this new fast-paced offense. If you just give us a fun product to watch and something to build off of for 2022, it will be a successful opening year for Josh Heupel.