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Despite Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s claims, Vols aren’t better than 2022

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Josh Heupel says this is the deepest team he’s had in four years at Tennessee. He said the wide receiver and tight end rooms are the deepest he’s had.

If that’s true, Tennessee should make the 12-team College Playoff this season.

If that’s true, Tennessee should rank among the nation’s leaders in scoring offense and total offense.

Why? Because in 2022, the Vols went 11-2, beat Clemson in the Orange Bowl, finished the season ranked No. 6 and led the nation in scoring and yards per game.

Heupel should know better than I, but these Vols return just seven starters. Seven. They have a first-year starter at quarterback, not a polished Hendon Hooker. They have two unproven receivers, not a potential Biletnikoff winner. And they don’t have an offensive lineman who will come close to being the No. 10 overall pick in an NFL draft.

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I’m not trying to be a pessimist. I’m trying to be a realist.

There are a lot of things I like about the 2024 Vols, but I don’t think, overall, this team is as deep or talented as the 2022 version.

In some positions, yes, like defensive line.

But where else?

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Would you rather have Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman, Bru McCoy, Ramel Keyton and Squirrel White at receiver?

Or McCoy, White, Dont’e Thornton, Chris Brazzel II and Mike Matthews?

That’s a close call but I’d take the 2022 wideouts.

Would you have rather have Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren at tight end?

Or Ethan Davis, Holden Staes and Miles Kitselman?

Another close call.

Would you rather have Jaylen Wright, Jabari Small and Dylan Sampson at running back or Sampson, Cam Seldon and Khalifa Keith? No doubt, the 2022 rushers.

At quarterback, I’d rather a proven Hooker, Joe Milton and Gaston Moore, than unproven Nico Iamaleava, Jake Merklinger and Moore.

That might change in 2025. But we’re talking about 2024.

This offensive line isn’t as good as the 2022 bunch. Two years ago, UT had Darnell Wright, Cooper Mays, Jerome Carvin, Javontez Spraggins, Gerald Mincey and JJ Crawford.

The defensive line, led by James Pearce Jr., Omari Thomas, Bryson Eason, Omarr Norman-Lott, Eli Simmons and Tyre West, is more talented and deeper than the 2022 group. In fact, it ranks with the best units in the nation.

At linebacker, Kennan Pili proved himself at BYU but he’s only played one game at Tennessee. Jeremiah Telander shows promise, as does Arion Carter and Caleb Herring. This group is more athletic than the 2022 guys, but Aaron Beasley and Jeremy Banks were productive and Juwan Mitchell had 43 tackles.

The secondary edge goes to 2022 with Trevon Flowers, Jalen McCullough, Tamarion McDonald, Kamal Hadden, Wesley Walker and Donieko Slaughter.

This year’s secondary will rely on former backups and three transfers. Not exactly a recipe for success.

The 2022 team averaged 46.1 points and 525.5 yards per game.

I’ll be shocked if the 2024 team matches those numbers, or even comes close. I can see 40 points and close to 500 yards per game.

I also can’t see an 11-win season.

But if Heupel is right about the depth of his squad, 11 wins and a CFP berth are well within reach.

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