As the Tennessee Volunteers approach the 2022 season, head coach Josh Heupel previewed his team at the SEC Media Days on Thursday.
That's a wrap from #SECMD22
Wheels up for Rocky Top 🍊 pic.twitter.com/XWYVxxKJip
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) July 21, 2022
Change in Culture Under Heupel
A major focus in Heupel’s early tenure has been shifting the focus within the program after a combined record of 16-19 during the three seasons under Jeremy Pruitt. Despite a 7-6 record in 2021, Tennessee won three of its final four regular season games, including an upset shootout over ranked Kentucky, to become bowl-eligible.
Hendon Hooker a darkhorse Heisman Trophy contender this fall?pic.twitter.com/CHTqHcTpKH
— that SEC podcast (@thatSECpodcast) July 14, 2022
Heading into year two in Knoxville, Heupel said he can see the culture shifted between last season and this season. Specifically, he said the accountability and leadership has dramatically changed throughout the team.
Additionally, the team impressed Heupel with their growth off the field, saying his players have bought into the idea that off-field actions relate to output on the field.
Hendon Hooker’s leadership
Arguably the face of the Tennessee football program is quarterback Hendon Hooker, who returns for his second season as the starter. After transferring from Virginia Tech, Hooker threw for 2,945 yards and 31 touchdowns in 2021.
Heupel said there are many ways to describe Hooker, but he’s most impressed with his composure and confidence.
Hooker was recently named to the Davey O’Brien Award Watch List and the Preseason All-SEC Second Team.
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) July 19, 2022
Attacking the portal
Over the course of Heupel’s first two years on the job, Tennessee has welcomed a total of 17 transfers to the program, including Hooker in the 2021 class. Specifically, seven of those came in the 2022 recruiting class.
However, because the depth of the roster is not quite where Heupel wants it to be, he said these additions have an early opportunity to earn playing time.
Headlining this year’s additions is Bru McCoy, a former five-star wide receiver who transferred from USC. However, he class of 2019 recruit had a back-and-forth recruitment and first season in college where he signed and enrolled at USC before transferring to Texas in less than a month. Five months later, McCoy transferred back to USC.
After only recording 236 yards and two touchdowns in his time with the Trojans, McCoy entered the transfer portal on Jan. 13, 2022 before transferring to Tennessee four months later. However, the NCAA has not cleared McCoy to play just yet due to eligibility rules. Either way, Heupel said he and the coaches are excited for what McCoy brings to the table.
Heupel and the Volunteers open the 2022 football season Thursday, Sept. 1 at Neyland Stadium against Ball State. The following week, Tennessee faces its first big test against the reigning-ACC champion Pittsburgh Panthers before beginning SEC-play two weeks later against Florida.
Additionally, Tennessee is projected to finish third in the conference behind Georgia and Kentucky in the SEC preseason media poll.
SEC preseason media poll
1. Georgia (172 1st place votes)
2. Kentucky (4)
3. Tennessee (1)
5. South Carolina (3)
7. Vanderbilt (1)
1. Alabama (177)
2. Texas A&M (3)
3. Arkansas (1)
4. Ole Miss
6. Mississippi State
— Brett McMurphy (@Brett_McMurphy) July 22, 2022