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Tennessee is the proprietor of the worst fans in American sports. The school has employed some of the biggest buffoons to ever appear on an SEC sideline. The successor to America’s Champion of Life learned what asparagus was on national television, then handed recruits McDonald’s bags full of money. Knoxville is a mess.
Instead of bringing a broom to clean up the Volunteers’ program, they brought UCF to the SEC. A program that claimed a national title now calls Knoxville home. Athletic director Danny White hired Josh Heupel to make the Vols feel like it’s ’98. That’s not going to happen overnight as the former Oklahoma quarterback undergoes a massive rebuild and implements an offense that isn’t so different than Hal Mumme’s ’98 passing attack at Kentucky.
Josh Heupel mentioned the Power-T logo three times in the first two minutes of his opening remarks at SEC Media Days in Hoover. Ipecac is less vomit-inducing than this: “This is one of the great and iconic logos in all of college football, steeped in tradition. It’s a great honor to be the care taker of Tennessee football at this time.”
There were shout outs to Tennessee greats, like Peyton Manning and Reggie White, and reminders to the media that he once won a title by slinging a ball around the football field. Heupel is looking to the past to try to distract us from the present. It ain’t going to work.
Heupel tried to dodge the transfer portal question by briefly acknowledging it in his open remarks. The first person handed a mic quickly returned to the topic.
“Obviously, our roster changed.”
That’s a tad bit of an understatement from Heupel. More than 30 Volunteers entered the portal this offseason, including former five-star recruit and All-SEC linebacker Henry To’o To’o. Quality depth will certainly be a problem, one that’s only exacerbated if the NCAA places scholarship restrictions on the Vols for handing out greenback Happy Meals.
Pushing Back on Tempo
Uptempo offenses once ruled the SEC, so much so that the sport changed its rules to allow defenses to substitute when new offensive players entered the field. Now Gus Malzahn is old news, back at Heupel’s old stomping grounds, and the style of offense has become taboo of sorts, often seen as a gimmick reserved for the Big 12 and AAC. Heupel pushed back on the uptempo talk, while insisting that he still wants to play fast.
“When I say the word ‘fast,’ I’m talking about in the way that we play, not just from play to play, but how we play the play.”
Well, that makes no sense at all.
Even though he’s pushing back on tempo today, that style of play can win you ball games in the right setting. Like Mississippi State a year ago and Kentucky under Mumme, you may not win a lot of games, but you will steal one or two IF you can find the right guy at quarterback.
Their latest high profile quarterback recruit, Kaidon Salter, was kicked off the team in late June for his second off the field incident. Harrison Bailey was supposed to be the next wunderkind under center, yet he did not impress Heupel enough in the spring practice to keep the Tennessee head coach out of the portal. Hendon Hooker left Virginia Tech and Joe Milton left Michigan to take snaps in Knoxville.
“Competition is the greatest friend any coach has,” Heupel said. “You have to have it in that room. It’s going to drive the players inside of it when you’re not around it.”
That’s a nice for Heupel to say, “The rest of the guys couldn’t cut it.” If Milton is not a consistent, accurate thrower, it will be a long season on Rocky Top.