Tennessee Football is poised to make a historic run next season. With a major advantage over most any school in the nation and a roster that can hold up against the Vols’ strongest rivals, it seems that 10 wins in 2024 is all but a guarantee.
The major advantage that Tennessee holds, head coach Josh’s Heupel’s ability to produce a top-flight offense, is about to kick into high gear if quarterback Nico Iamaleava is an upgrade, which Off The Hook Sports has long said he will be.
Think of it this way. Former Tennessee Football quarterback Hendon Hooker was a sports car, and former UT quarterback Joe Milton III got the Vols from Point A to Point B, mostly. However, rising sophomore Nico Iamaleava is the F1 speedster that Heupel has been waiting his entire career to pilot.
Although the roster may not be perfect, an explosive offense will overcome some deficiencies elsewhere. So what are realistic expectations for the Vols in 2024? There is no question that the bar should be set at 10 wins.
My early prediction is that the Vols will find a way to win 11 games, which they have accomplished just eight times in school history, once under Heupel in 2022. The Vols have won ten or more games just 20 times in school history.
Therefore, I’m admittedly setting the bar high. If Heupel can post his second 11-win season at Tennessee, he’ll match Gen. Robert Neyland with two. That’s pretty good company. We’ll get into the roster and why Tennessee can be a title contender later, but it’s the Vols’ schedule that is so attractive.
In the season-opener, Tennessee Football will beat Chattanooga handily. Iamaleava will score five touchdowns and be the talk of the nation. N.C. State could provide a slight challenge, but the odds are the Vols will roll through the Wolfpack in Charlotte, then Kent State. That’s 3-0 before things get serious.
UT will then travel to Oklahoma, where Heupel once starred as a Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback. Perhaps the Sooners could still use Heupel since quarterback Dillon Gabriel has transferred to Oregon. Without Gabriel, the Vols should be 4-0 with a bye week before hosting Arkansas on Oct. 5.
It’s hard to imagine the Razorbacks beating Tennessee in Neyland Stadium when they could have a lame-duck coach in Sam Pittman. Perhaps this would be a closer contest if it were in Fayetteville Ark., but this looks like a relatively easy win. Suddenly, the Vols are 5-0 and poised to face a true rival.
When they host Florida on Oct. 5, the Vols will have revenge on their mind after losing in The Swamp last season in embarrassing fashion. As the Gators seem stuck in rebuilding mode, the Vols seem practically rebuilt, so they will be favored and should be 6-0 after a win over the Gators.
Then the fun really begins. Tennessee Football will play Alabama and Georgia in two of its next four games. Those games will likely determine just how successful the Vols will be. They can lose one of them and still host a playoff game.
If they lost both, they’ll likely be on the road if they make the playoffs at all. However, if Tennessee can beat the Crimson Tide at home and the Bulldogs Athens, the Vols can hit another level of success that the program hasn’t seen in nearly a quarter of a century.
Home games against Kentucky, Mississippi State and UTEP along with a trip to Vanderbilt are all on the slate in the last half of the season as well. Those all add up to wins if history and potentially one-sided gambling spreads hold true. So what does that mean for Tennessee? First, the stakes just got higher.
Rocky Top’s fan base has every right to expect 10 wins. I’m predicting 11. That could be an SEC Championship Game win, a playoff win or a bowl win, just in case the Vols get left out of the College Football Playoff, which I don’t believe will be the case.
Final Way-Too-Early Prediction: Tennessee Football reaches the Final Eight with a first round College Football Playoff win after losses to Alabama and Georgia and finishes 11-3.