You’re never supposed to overreact to the first week, especially when you didn’t even play that week. However, there were two Week 0 games that could give Tennessee football fans cause for concern going forward.
The first is what the Vanderbilt Commodores did to the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Yes, Vandy was the favourite, but he was on tour. They went 2-10 last year and won both games by no more than a field goal. There was no reason to believe in them this year.
Well, it looks like Clark Lea’s team might be more dangerous than we thought. Vandy beat Hawaii 63-10 on the road, and there’s no getting around that kind of dominance, no matter how much trouble Hawaii is going through. Maybe they took a step forward.
Earlier in the year, Tennessee football had four wins in a circle and one probable win. The Missouri Tigers were their only likely win, and the three non-Power Five foes plus Vandy were their four wins in a circle. This game can change that.
After all, the Vols lost five of seven to Vanderbilt from 2012 to 2018, including three in a row from 2016 to 2018. Interestingly, they lost five of seven to Mizzou in the same time frame. That is a story for another day.
When it comes to Vanderbilt specifically, that stretch proved that this game was more of a rivalry than any rivalry Tennessee football has with the Florida Gators or Alabama Crimson Tide. When you consider the fact that UT has to travel to Nashville this year, it makes things interesting.
There’s another concern for the Vols, though, and it’s on a slightly larger scale. Scott Frost is a dead man walking with the Nebraska Cornhuskers after their loss to the Northwestern Wildcats. Frost and Heupel obviously have a connection.
Danny White signed both of them to the UCF Knights when he was their athletic director, choosing Heupel to replace Frost. Could that mean that Heupel is going the same way as Frost? Sure, there’s excitement now, but it’s only after a year.
Given the location of the school and the conference it’s in, there’s always been a legitimate argument that UCF is a naturally easy place to win. Did Frost and Heupel ride that wave? A 7-6 season for Heupel at UT isn’t enough to get excited about.
Now, there are tons of factors that are different between Frost and Heupel, one of which is that Heupel can recruit skilled players in Knoxville. Nebraska was always better off going the Iowa Hawkeyes route and focusing on elite offensive linemen and playing physically, which isn’t conducive to Frost’s coaching style.
However, both were national championship quarterbacks in the Big 12 who were signed by White at UCF. The similarities are hard to ignore, and on a macro scale, you have to wonder if Heupel will end up having the same problems as Frost. Both are on shows desperately trying to recapture their 1990s glory days.
Of the two, the Vanderbilt story is a more tangible and legitimate concern. There’s reason to worry about the danger they pose to Tennessee football this year, and it could play a role in derailing Heupel if the going gets tough. That would make him similar to Frost in the long run.