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Five reasons a strong bowl performance from Nico Iamaleava will prove valuable for 2024

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Many Tennessee fans received the news they’ve been waiting for on Wednesday. 

Nico Iamaleava will make his first career start for Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl. 

Iamaleava arrived at Tennessee with a ton of hype thanks to his five-star rating and the anticipation of what he’ll be able to do in Tennessee’s offense. 

Here’s his first chance to show everyone. 

This start isn’t just about trying to win the bowl game. 

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It’s about what could happen next. 

Here are five reasons a strong performance by Iamaleava against Iowa would lead to a big 2024 for him and Tennessee.


Josh Heupel is trying to sell Tennessee’s program.

The Vols’ strong performance in 2022 helped. 

Their 11-2 season and win against Alabama brought credibility to Heupel’s plan. 

But Tennessee has room to improve on the recruiting trail. 

A strong performance by Iamaleava would give Heupel and his staff an attractive pitch to future recruits. 

“Look at what our guy just did. There’s more to come.”

That could help with recruiting for the 2025 class, which will feature important in-state recruits. 

Quarterback George MacIntyre is strongly considering the Vols and might be close to a decision. 

MacIntyre knows he’d have to sit behind Iamaleava during the 2025 season if he signs with Tennessee. 

A strong showing by Iamaleava would give MacIntyre confidence that this Tennessee staff is the right group to develop him. 

It could also add to MacIntyre’s belief that he’ll take over in 2026 — with the anticipation that Nico would turn pro. 

Tennessee will also make a run at 2024 five-star defensive tackle Dominick McKinley in January. 

If Iamaleava has a big bowl performance, Tennessee will let McKinley know about it. 

Transfer Portal Targets 

Tennessee hit several needs in December but will look to add more players in January. 

A strong showing by Iamaleava would instantly make Tennessee more attractive for the 2024 season. 

If the hype looks real, more players would be willing to buy in. 

There’s reportedly been a significant investment made to help get Iamaleava to Tennessee. 

That pitch would be there for deserving transfer targets, too. 

Iamaleava has been one of the faces of the new college football world, which involves NIL opportunities. 

He’ll become a billboard for Tennessee if he plays well against Iowa. 

Nico’s Confidence

Iamaleava shouldn’t lack confidence going into this game. 

He has all the talent necessary to succeed and has been praised by Heupel for the work he’s put in to prepare. 

But there’s no replacement for experience. 

If Iamaleava has a strong showing against Iowa, it will boost his confidence during the offseason — and increase the belief from his teammates that Nico can help lead them to a championship. 

Iamaleava believes he can play at a high level. 

If he has a big game against Iowa, regarded as one of the nation’s top defenses, Iamaleava will know he can play at a high level. 

That can make a big difference. 

Heupel’s Self Scouting

Heupel and his staff have seen Iamaleava every day in practice. 

They know what kind of work ethic he has. 

But Monday’s game will give Tennessee’s coaches a chance to see what Iamaleava can do against a live defense. 

A strong showing would give Heupel something to build on. 

And figure out ways to help Iamaleava make plays for his teammates next season. 

Tennessee’s staff knew Hendon Hooker had playmaking ability in 2021.

But Hooker began that season as the backup before taking over for Joe Milton III following Milton’s injury against Pittsburgh. 

After the coaches saw what Hooker could do against live competition, the offense took off with Hooker’s development and Heupel’s game planning. 

The same can happen for Heupel and Iamaleava in 2024.

A Boost for Tennessee’s Fanbase

Tennessee fans are excited to see Nico. 

Imagine the reaction if he has a strong showing in his first career start. 

A big game by Iamaleava would cause an eruption from the fanbase. 

Support for Tennessee’s program, which is already in a great place, would increase even more. 

NIL dollars matter in college football. 

Iamaleava playing well against Iowa would help with the funding. 

Tennessee has a passionate fanbase that’s always ready to support. 

But that word mentioned earlier — belief — matters. 

If fans see something to believe in on Monday, get ready for a fun offseason in 2024. 

College football will expand to a 12-team playoff next season. 

If Iamaleava has a strong showing against Iowa, fans will spend the next eight months talking about Tennessee’s playoff hopes.

That would add to the pressure Iamaleava is facing as Tennessee’s starting quarterback. 

But that passion and expectation level helped entice Iamaleava to sign with the Vols in the first place. 

So let’s see what Iamaleava can do on Monday. 

Everyone is ready. 

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