This football season hasn’t gone the way Tennessee hoped it would.
The Vols entered 2023 coming off an 11-2 season.
Expectations were high for Tennessee with quarterback Joe Milton III taking over the QB1 role following his MVP performance in the Orange Bowl.
Back-to-back losses to Missouri and Georgia by a combined 57 points have left Tennessee in a disappointing position.
But this is the season of thanks.
As Tennessee prepares for its final regular season game against Vanderbilt, how about a look at five things Tennessee football should be thankful for this season.
This month didn’t go the way coaches or players hoped.
But at least they were playing for something.
Tennessee still had the SEC East on the table just two weeks ago.
And a Florida bowl is still a possibility — perhaps likely — with a win this week.
There have been too many seasons in the last 15 years in which fans just wanted the season to end by the time November arrived.
Instead, fans entered November believing the Vols could make a big run.
It didn’t happen, hence the disappointment.
But the belief that it could happen had to mean something.
Tennessee is ranked
You might be surprised to learn that Tennessee is ranked in both major polls as well as the College Football Playoff ranking.
The Vols are hanging on at No. 25 in the AP poll, 23rd in the Coaches’ poll and 21st in the playoff ranking— but that’s still something Tennessee can brag about if they maintain their positions.
Consecutive seasons finishing ranked used to be no big deal.
But since 2008, it’s happened one other time for Tennessee: in 2015 and 2016 under coach Butch Jones.
Tennessee might have the best graphics team in college football.
Take care of business the rest of the way and the social media team can post all the bragging material for UT’s fans to share at the end of the season.
Tennessee has four more years of Nico Iamaleava
Is this something Tennessee fans want?
We know fans wanted to see Nico more this season, at least at the end of some blowout wins.
Other fans wanted to see more of the five-star freshman for different reasons.
But the payoff from not playing Iamaleava much this season is four more years of eligibility.
But that’s why I asked if that’s what fans want.
Because if Iamaleava plays four more seasons, something might’ve gone wrong.
That could mean a lack of production or an injury.
The former No. 1 overall recruit didn’t sign expecting to be at Tennessee for five total seasons.
Josh Heupel said in August that Tennessee wasn’t planning to redshirt him.
But they were able to do it while preparing for him to take over the starting job next season.
“Four more years!”
Probably not. But the option is there.
Mike Matthews’ commitment
Tennessee has lacked consistent playmaking at wide receiver this season.
That’s why Heupel and the offensive staff should be thankful for Matthews, a five-star wide receiver commitment in the 2024 class.
We haven’t seen a freshman make an immediate impact in Tennessee’s offense under Heupel.
But Matthews will have a chance next season.
His arrival, along with fellow receiver commit Braylon Staley, will give Tennessee’s offense a chance to bounce back after a disappointing 2023.
“Nico to Matthews” is a phrase fans will expect to hear immediately next season.
Five-star commitments are hard to come by in college football.
Be thankful when they end up on your side.
Opportunities for transfers
What’s that saying about life and lemons?
Tennessee’s need for immediate help could result in a nice cup of lemonade for targets in the transfer portal.
I’m pretty sure I screwed up the analogy, but you hopefully get the point.
Tennessee’s problem is the need for help at several positions, including the offensive line, linebacker, and defensive back.
That makes for an easy selling point to players in the transfer portal.
“We have immediate playing time available for you on a top-25 SEC team.”
Other schools will target many of the same players, and landing them won’t come cheap.
But the Vols have several needs and the transfer portal will offer a solution.
Tennessee can be thankful for the opportunity.