It may have not have been according to plan, but eventually – finally – Nico Iamaleava has become Tennessee’s starting quarterback. It’s about time.
The news spread on Wednesday that the Vols had been informed that senior quarterback Joe Milton would opt out of the final game of his college eligibility and begin preparing for the NFL Draft. As has been pointed out numerous times by varying media outlets, the move makes plenty of sense for Milton. However, the timing is more than a bit odd.
Milton practiced with the Vols all last week as Tennessee prepared for Iowa in the Citrus Bowl, which will be played at 1 p.m. EST time on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Fla.. So why the sudden announcement by Milton via his Instagram account after the Vols arrived at the bowl site, which they did on Tuesday?
Is it possible that Milton was told he wouldn’t be the starter against the Hawkeyes, that the Vols were ready to move on with Iamaleava? That’s possible. However, I’d say the final straw was more likely the indecision from Milton’s camp as opposed to anything that came up in head coach Josh Heupel’s head, which leads us to the ultimate conspiracy theory. Is the handling of Milton’s availability a covert operation to keep Iowa on its claws? Not likely. Off The Hook Sports was told repeatedly last week that Milton’s decision to play in the Citrus Bowl or not was still not common knowledge in Tennessee’s program. If there was a secret rouse, very few people, perhaps only Heupel and Milton, knew about it.
So, ultimately, why was the decision made later rather than sooner and at a very questionable time with a bowl game less than a week away? The most simple answer may be the most likely. Milton simply didn’t know if he wanted to play in the Citrus Bowl, which would be consistent with his lack of quick decision-making ability throughout his career as a player.
While Tennessee might catch Iowa by surprise with better quarterback play, that wasn’t why Milton wasn’t benched in place of Iamaleava. Milton wasn’t benched because he has his team’s respect for him. That won’t change after the bizarre way in which he’s leaving college football. However, it would be a bit disconcerting if I’m an NFL scout.