KNOXVILLE— 2022 represents a new season with new expectations for the Tennessee Volunteers. Few in Knoxville expect an SEC championship in Year 2 under Josh Heupel, but many expect progress, something, anything to build on after years of disgrace.
Some things from last season will remain the same, others will change. Let’s review the 2022 Tennessee football edition to get you up to speed ahead of the Week 1 matchup against Ball State
A is for Alabama – Let’s not act like this is the rivalry it once was. The third Saturday in October was competitive for the first time in what seemed like eons last year. This year, the Crimson Tide travels to Neyland Stadium looking to extend their winning streak to 16. Could Tennessee turn the tide?
B is for banks – Both Jeremy and Tim. Second-year defensive coordinator Tim Banks’ unit has to improve from last year. The Vols, led by senior linebacker Jeremy Banks, have to get off the field on third down. The offense will hold its own, but the Vols can’t afford to burn out 45-42 ball games week after week.
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C is for Cedric Tillman – Tillman returns in 2022 as one of the best wide receivers in the country, let alone the SEC. The first-team All-SEC wide receiver is a force to be reckoned with along with one of the conference’s top talents in Hendon Hooker.
D is for Defense – This will become a theme: Tennessee has to be better defensively this season. Much of that will rest in the makeshift secondary following Theo Jackson and Alontae Taylor’s departure to the NFL.
E is for east – Tennessee finished behind Kentucky last season. It’s not an overreaction to say that’s not acceptable this season. The Vols don’t have the firepower to knock Georgia off its perch in the East, but they should be close and at least second by the end of the year.
F is for Florida – The excuses are over. The Gators have taken a step back from who they once were, and Tennessee has to take advantage. The Vols have just 1 win over Florida since 2005, and this year’s edition is in Knoxville against a first-year head coach in Billy Napier. The Gators should be near the top of Tennessee’s “must-win” list.
G is for Georgia – Nobody expects Tennessee to win the East, the Georgia Bulldogs are too powerful. Regardless, Tennessee has played well at Sanford Stadium in the past. His most recent series win came in Athens in 2016. Could something crazy happen?
H is for Heupel – Everyone knows what Josh Heupel is about right now. He likes to play fast and he likes to score. What’s so enchanting about Heupel’s brief tenure as head coach is the step back he seems to take in Year 2 and Year 3. At UCF, it’s what led some fans to celebrate his departure to Rocky Top. Is that simply a Central Florida product or a brand name on the Heup man himself? We will see very soon.
I is for improvement – That’s what we’re all doing here, right? The Vols desperately need to step forward in 2022 instead of stepping back like the 2017 and 2020 teams did. Momentum is only that if you can act on it, right, Nebraska?
J is for Small Jabari – Jabari Small leads a strong running back from Tennessee. Sure, the Vols swung and missed former Clemson running back Lyn-J Dixon last month, but Small, Jaylen Wright and a pair of freshmen in Justin Williams-Thomas and Dylan Sampson will be more than ready to keep the strong.
K is for Kentucky – Perhaps Tennessee’s strongest rival in the SEC East isn’t called Georgia, Kentucky is another game to spin this season. The Vols will host the Cats just a few days before Halloween, on October 29.
L is for LSU – Tennessee’s rotating SEC West opponent last year was Ole Miss. They played a game to remember, and not just because of the golf balls and the mustard bottle. Tennessee lost, but had a chance to ruin Lane Kiffin’s return to Rocky Top. LSU isn’t Ole Miss 2021, but it’s a useful program that would look good in the win column by the end of the year.
M is for McCoy – Bru McCoy, as of the Friday before Week 1, the NCAA granted you immediate eligibility. The USC transfer receiver and former top 10 prospect could be a dangerous asset alongside Cedric Tillman.
N is for next step – Tennessee has been in this situation before: right on the doorstep but unable to get through the door. The Vols aren’t elite yet, by no means, but they have a chance to make a big step in 2022.
Or is it for offensive line – Last season’s offensive line was useful. He’s not great, he’s not bad, but he’s certainly worth upgrading and he’s alarmingly prone to injury. Tennessee lost Cade Mays in the NFL Draft, but brings back talent like Darnell Wright, Cooper Mays and Jerome Carvin. It will be either Jerimiah Crawford or Gerald Mincey at left tackle, which is definitely something to watch out for on Sept. 1.
P is for Pitt – Part II of Johnny Majors Classic is sure to be a hit. The Vols barely lost to the Panthers last year in Knoxville, but it never looked like Tennessee was capable of a real punch. Hendon Hooker’s full 60 minutes could be the tie against Pitt’s Kedon Slovis and the Top 25 ranking on September 10.
Q is for quarterback – Oh, and that aforementioned Hendon Hooker (whose debut came in the second half against Pitt last season) is up for a big encore. Hooker is eager to increase his draft stock and improve on last season’s mark of 31 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
R is for renewals – The Neymar Stadium has a new look. It’s down from 102,455 to a modest 101,915 after renovations to add a new big screen, sports bar and new party deck. AD Danny White stated in April that he wanted Neyland Stadium to be “the best in college football.”
S is for Secondary – S can also mean “shaky”. The Vols have a lot of positives going into the season, but their secondary isn’t one of them. Sure, there are bright young stars in Christian Charles, Ohio State transfer Andre Turrentine and Tamarion McDonald, but there’s also a serious lack of experience at the top of the depth chart.
T is for Thursday – Night, that is. The Vols open their 2022 season against Ball State on September 1 in a newly renovated Neyland Stadium.
U is for understated – The No. 3 scoring offense in the SEC, one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and a young coach who brings an exciting style of football to the table? Not to mention a fan base hungry for relevance? Yeah, I don’t think it’s crazy to call the Vols one of the most underrated squads in the nation.
V is for Vanderbilt – Well, the Commodores actually looked like something on Saturday night against Hawai’i. Granted, the Rainbow Warriors aren’t exactly LSU 2019, but it’s still rare to see the Commodores dominate someone so efficiently. The Vols travel to Nashville for their final game of the season against their in-state rival on November 26.
W is for white – Danny, that’s it. Tennessee football and Tennessee athletics in general have seen great success during White’s tenure as Athletic Director.
X is for X and O – Also known as “keeping the system up to date”. Tennessee’s 2021 electric offense needs variation. SEC coaches have had a year to figure out Josh Huepel’s system and offensive coordinator Alex Golesh, the offense should be fresh.
And it’s for young – Byron Young is a rising star on the Tennessee defense. JUCO’s transfer caused quite a stir last season and he appears to be maneuvering into a leadership role in Year 2.
Z is for zippers – Tennessee has 3 cupcake games this season: Ball State to open the year, UT Martin in November, and Akron in Week 3. The Vols will be 2-0 or 1-1 heading into the Week 3 matchup against the Zips (Well , assuming another Georgia State situation does not happen with Ball State) and his behavior could tell us a lot about this team.