- Aug 13, 2006
Keep in mind we beat a pretty good Clemson team without Hyatt, Tillman, and Hooker. Therefore myself and others thought we would keep it on the tracks.When Heupel was first hired, I made a prediction that some called stupid. I said I thought he'd be successful in the first 2 years but there'd be a dropoff in Year 3. At the beginning of this season, I picked us to go 8-4 when most of VN was saying 10-2 or 9-3 this year. I'm not Nostradamus. It's really all about the 2021 recruiting class.
The 21 Recruiting Class
Remember, Pruitt was fired in Jan '21. But his last recruiting class was a real stinker. Take a glance at it if you'd like:
2021 Tennessee Vols Football Recruiting
There are a few good players in there. Jaylen Wright in particular has developed into a great RB. Christian Charles has been a contributor, but has been injured this season. Jeremiah Crawford has been a contributor but he was actually recruited last-minute by Heupel's staff. Byron Young was good, but left for the NFL. But other than that, there's hardly anyone from that class recruited by Pruitt that's even on the roster. That should be our Junior class and will be the Senior class next season, and we have like 3 guys from that class still on the roster who have any impact whatsoever.
That's why I predicted 8-4. When Heupel came in, he had some great offensive weapons like Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt. I've known all along that there would be a dropoff this year and it's exacerbated even more like Hyatt leaving for the NFL.
The 22 Recruiting Class and NCAA Overhang
Heupel also came in late and got a late start on the '22 recruiting class, with an NCAA overhang that deterred recruits from coming here. It was one of our weaker ranked classes historically. But ... it's actually looking pretty good. Much better than the #23 ranking on 247 would suggest. James Pearce, Elijah Herring, Squirrel White, Dee Williams. Glance down the list and most of those guys are on the roster or contributing. Compared to the busted '21 class, the '22 class looks good, especially given the circumstances.
Next year, we'll have the #2 QB in the nation starting (Nico). Things will get better.
Also remember that we got decimated by injuries this season. Out for the Georgia game: Bru McCoy, Donte Thornton, Christian Charles, Keenan Pili, Kamal Hadden, and Arion Carter. We also lost Cooper Mays and Elijah Simmons earlier in the season.
All in all, we had a weaker roster starting this season than the previous two, and we've had a lot of injuries to exacerbate that, and we're still 7-4 with a remaining home game against Vanderbilt. Not too bad, even if some fans don't want to see it.
Milton has been inconsistent, but if we're being honest, no top-tier QB was coming here as a transfer after Hooker broke out in '21. And Nico is likely the starter in '24, which is also likely why Tayven Jackson transferred. So if you're a transfer, you have to basically come here for 1 season and hope to beat out Milton, which is not a super-appealing situation. We just kinda got stuck in a less-than-ideal QB situation in '23 due to have an elite QB in 21/22 and a top recruit who presumably takes over in 24.
I never expected this to be a big season. People got their hopes up after last season, but lost too many key players (Hyatt, Hooker, Tillman, D-Wright) and were never exptected to have a lot of depth. The '22 class is looking like a big success in spite of the handicaps Heupel started with. If the '23 class pans out, particularly Nico, we're going to be good again soon. So it sucks losing the past 2 weeks, but we kinda ran into 2 steamrollers at the wrong time. And it really only takes a few great players to turn things around on offense. Look at Mizzou --- Brady Cook and Schrader have carried them this season. And you saw how good Carson Beck looked against us today. I think we'll have that with Nico soon!
Are there things that need to be fixed? Sure. But overall, Heupel has greatly exceeded expectations given the dire situation he inherited. And it's going to get better.
I still 100% think Heupel is "our guy".