It looks like the SEC moved up its plan to be historically tough by one year. That just happens to be the year that is most in favor of Tennessee football winning the conference championship.
Thursday night, the league officially confirmed that the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners moved up their date to join to 2024. They initially planned to join in 2025.
This news comes after it seemed last weekend that the two schools would not be able to leave before their 2025 date. Now, all that’s left is figuring out how to set up the league.
Make no mistake about it, this is bad for Tennessee football. If you look at the trajectory of the Vols under Josh Heupel, 2024 was set to be the first year in which they would be ready to compete for an SEC title.
With so much departing talent and somewhat of a transition quarterback in Joe Milton III, the Vols aren’t winning the SEC in 2023. They aren’t ready to compete with the Georgia Bulldogs.
However, Nico Iamaleava, the greatest possible quarterback to run Heupel’s system, almost as if he was created in a lab for Heupel, would be starting in 2024 with a year of experience under his belt. That alone is enough.
Beyond Iamaleava, though, the 2023 recruiting class loaded up on defensive talent at the exact spots where the Vols have struggled. Those players will be ready to go in 2024.
Meanwhile, the offensive line and skill players won’t have as much of a transition that year, as much of that will actually happen this year. Simply put, UT was set to take over the world in 2024 and beyond.
With the College Football Playoff expanding to 12 teams that season, it was the magic year for Tennessee football. They would arrive just as the playoff expanded and one year before the SEC expanded.
You couldn’t ask for a better combination. Now, though, the Vols are going to have a lot more competition. A quick look at recruiting shows Texas and OU are about to emerge just as the Vols are.
Now, they may get a break with Brent Venables not being that great of a coach at OU and having some real issues. Steve Sarkisian’s resume shows that won’t be a problem at Texas, though, if he has talent.
Both teams just inked top five classes, ahead of the Vols. Georgia and the Alabama Crimson Tide are still around, as they had the top two classes. Brian Kelly’s LSU Tigers were also ahead of the Vols, and they are about to arrive.
As a result, Tennessee football has gone from competing with three other teams realistically to win the league to competing with five. The Vols had a great chance with just three teams given Iamaleava at QB. At five, it requires a lot more luck.
Taking all of this into account, Heupel’s team will not get the break that seemed likely just last weekend in 2024. Just as the Vols arrive as an elite program, they will be competing in the toughest league in history.