Tennessee might only have two quarterbacks on scholarship this fall. So what?
While that’s a huge departure from the past history of building a college football roster, having just two scholarship quarterbacks shouldn’t be viewed as a handicap for Tennessee or any program moving forward. That’s just business.
There aren’t many quarterbacks in the nation that would feel comfortable competing with the Vols’ two scholarship quarterbacks that are currently on the roster. One, senior Joe Milton, has experience and the admiration of his teammates. He’s likely the starter. The other, freshman Nico Iamaleava, is supposed to be the greatest thing since the ‘Power T’ and will eventually start for years. There’s not much room for anyone else to find playing time – unless injuries crop up. Let’s get to that in a moment.
The days of having a deep roster of quarterbacks is over. The transfer portal has made it far too easy to bolt and find playing time at another school. Players aren’t waiting for blatant signs that they aren’t going to play at their original school. Anything that hints at lost practice or playing time is reason to head elsewhere. For those that have any doubts, coaches from rival schools are always ready to suggest – uh, tamper – when the situation calls for it. Former Vol quarterback Tayven Jackson didn’t wait to see much of Iamaleava before transferring to Indiana. Despite Jackson’s experience advantage over Iamaleava, it was time to be a Hoosier.
Players, especially at quarterback, aren’t going to stick around in hopes of playing one day. The Vols’ plight this season with just two scholarship quarterbacks will be a common theme around the country.
With quarterbacks spreading around the country, there is one aspect of college football that is going to drive fans crazy. What happens when there are injuries to a key signal caller? Well, in most cases, that team’s championship hopes are essentially over. Don’t blame the coach for not having a backup. Blame college football as a whole.
Credit Tennessee coach Josh Heupel for seeing the wave of the future. He’s not concerned about keeping quarterbacks around that could gripe about a lack of playing time. It’s simple: Have a starter and have a future. Why keep other quarterbacks around when they are just taking up practice snaps? Practice time is too limited to get more than two quarterbacks ready to play.
Now, there could be an evolution that could replenish quarterback depth to the top programs in the nation. If college football develops a “super” conference then quarterbacks will be more likely to hang around a prominent program even if they aren’t seeing the field. In other words, it’s better to be a backup in the NFL than a starter in the USFL.
All this may not sound that great to fans of a big-time college football program like Tennessee. Fans might want to harken back to the days when Jerry Colquitt, Peyton Manning, Brandon Stewart and Todd Helton were all at the ready. Those days are over. If a starter goes down early in the season, there will be struggles. Just ask Alabama, which nearly fell apart when starter Bryce Young went down last fall. If a program loses two quarterbacks, don’t make any grand bowl plans.
The rich love to get richer. Tennessee fans would love to have another top-flight quarterback – or four – on the Vols’ roster. That’s just not realistic. Tennessee may just have two scholarship quarterbacks on its roster, but there aren’t many schools that wouldn’t trade places with the Vols. Most should envy Tennessee’s quarterback situation.
Of course, Tennessee’s current state of quarterbacking could change. Something could happen in spring practice that would lead the Vols to bring in a transfer. However, if that happens, it’s likely not good for Tennessee. It likely means that one of the Vols’ current scholarship quarterbacks suffered a significant injury. Quarterbacks at other schools are smart. They’re not going to enroll at Tennessee with little or no chance to play. Something would have to massively change in Knoxville to get an upper-tier quarterback to become a Vol. That’s why Tennessee couldn’t bring in a quarterback in the latest transfer portal.
All of this puts more pressure on coaches like Heupel. A lost quarterback could mean a lost season. However, as long as his pay check clears – and it will – there won’t be any complaints from the head coach’s office. More pressure? That’s just business.