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10 burning questions as Vols heads into the offseason

techsm5

What a season it has been for the Tennessee Volunteers football program.

The Vols beat Florida, LSU and Alabama, won a 6-game New Year’s Bowl for the 1st time since January 2005, and finished the season with 11 wins for the 1st time in 21 years.

The 2022 season will be remembered by Vols fans for decades to come. But it won’t be long before all the attention turns to the 2023 campaign.

Here are 10 burning questions facing the Vols as we head into the offseason.

1. Will Joe Milton III be Tennessee’s starting QB in Week 1?

Sounds like an easy “well, duh”. Milton is coming off an Orange Bowl MVP performance, with 251 passing yards and 3 touchdowns against Clemson. He will be a 6th grade QB with 2 and a half years of learning this offense.

He’ll be pushed by sophomore Tayven Jackson and real freshman Nico Yamaleava, but it would be amazing if anyone other than Milton took the first shot against Virginia.

2. Who will be Tennessee’s WR1?

The 2022 season started with Cedric Tillman as Tennessee’s top pass-catching option. After being injured, Jalin Hyatt was the go-to guy.

Tillman and Hyatt won’t be there in the fall, but the Vols have candidates.

Bru McCoy is probably the leader of the clubhouse. McCoy finished 2nd on the team last season in catches with 52 and 667 yards. Ramel Keyton is another experienced contender and finished with 31 catches for 562 yards and 5 scores.

Squirrel White’s speed will continue to give opposing defenses tweaks, but the guess here is McCoy.

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Sportsbooks in Tennessee officially launched on November 1, 2020, and many of the biggest sportsbooks are live and operate in the voluntary state. Tennessee is just one of the few SEC football states to have legalized sports betting.

3. Who will be the Tennessee OC?

When you are successful, other schools will try to take your assistant coaches. It was no surprise when Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh took over as head coach in South Florida in December.

Vols head coach Josh Heupel hasn’t moved since the end of the regular season. But you wouldn’t expect him to go out of the family to find Golesh’s replacement.

Coach QB Joey Halzle is the obvious choice. Halzle has been with Heupel during his coaching stops at Utah State, Missouri and Central Florida, and he knows Heupel’s offense better than anyone.

4. Will there be any changes to the defensive coaching staff?

The Tennessee defense gave up 484 yards and 34 first downs to Clemson and stayed on the field for more than 36 minutes.

But it was in bend-don’t-break mode, stopped a false basket and came away with 2 turnovers. It was one of his best “big game” performances of the season.

That said, it’s a unit that will finish the season better than 90th in the country. No matter how good Tennessee’s offense is (and it was the best in the nation this year), the Vols won’t win the division with such a mediocre defense.

Heupel had a lot of stability in his coaching staff during his first 2 seasons at Knoxville. But it will be interesting to see if he makes any changes to the personnel on this side of the ball.

5. Will the transfer portal help or hurt the Flights?

The transfer portal has taken its toll on Tennessee’s schedule, especially ahead of Heupel’s first 2 seasons in Knoxville. But the Vols also got a lot of help from the Portal, with players like Milton, McCoy and JaVonta Payton using the Portal to travel to Tennessee under Heupel.

In this cycle, Tennessee wide receivers Jimmy Holiday and Jimmy Calloway entered the portal, as did RB Len’Net Whitehead. The Vols have already welcomed BYU LB Keenan Pili, as well as Indiana PK Charles Campbell to replace Chase McGrath.

They won’t be the last to leave or arrive.

6. Will Tyler Baron return this fall?

Tennessee is already losing key players on defense, including LB Jeremy Banks and DE Byron Young.

Knoxville Catholic product Tyler Baron has yet to decide on his future. Baron has played 36 games with Tennessee over the past 3 years. This season, he has made 22 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss.

His return would be a big boost for this defense that needs playmakers.

7. Will high school improve?

It’s no secret that Tennessee’s secondary has been this team’s weak spot under Heupel. This season, it was one of the worst units in the nation, giving up 289.5 passing yards per game.

Secondary coach Willie Martinez is the most criticized for his failures.

8. Will a freshman have an immediate impact?

Tennessee’s Class of 2023 is ranked 9th nationally according to 247Sports. Big things will be expected from several guys in this group in the years to come.

But what about this fall? Given the Vols’ issues in the defensive backfield, you might see 4-star cornerbacks Jordan Matthews and/or Rickey Gibson in the field sooner rather than later.

9. Will Spring/Summer bring key engagements for the Class of 2024?

Tennessee’s Class of 2023 received a huge boost when Yamaleava signed up for the Vols last March. This commitment gave Heupel and his assistants a big name to point to when trying to sign other players.

Another 5 stars could do the same for the next class.

10. Will Tennessee win at least 10 games again?

You would have been hard-pressed to find anyone in August expecting Tennessee to pull off double-digit wins. It hadn’t done it for 15 years.

The really good programs are those that consistently achieve this level of wins. Can the Flights maintain this momentum?


techsm5

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