How disappointed should Tennessee fans be in the Music City Bowl loss to Purdue?
The big picture view is that the result of a mid-tier bowl game shouldn’t change anyone’s overall view of the direction of any program one way or another. However, when looked at in the smaller context of what it means for one season, there’s no doubt this one hurts.
The most encouraging thing about the first season of the Josh Heupel Era is that Heupel beat all the teams he was supposed to beat. There was a time when Tennessee fans took that for granted. But as we all know…that was a long, long time ago.
The 247 Sports talent composite ranking lists Tennessee as the 15th most talented team in the country. Florida, Georgia, and Alabama are the only teams on the Vols 2021 schedule with more four and five star players on their rosters. UT lost to all three in the regular season. The other two losses were to Pitt and Ole Miss. It’s hard to say that Heupel should have beaten Pitt (36th in the talent composite), being that it was his second game as UT’s coach, and there was a QB change in the middle of the game. It’s also hard to say he should have beaten an Ole Miss team (27th in the composite) that finished the regular season ranked in the top 10 of both major polls.
That’s why the Music City Bowl loss is so disappointing. Not only is Purdue significantly less talented than Tennessee (the Boilermakers are 48th in the talent composite), but they were also missing five starters due to opt-outs and disciplinary reasons. This should have been a Big Orange blowout.
Yes, the officiating crew did the Vols no favors, but Tennessee had plenty of chances to win the game in regulation. A defense that gave up 627 total yards, 15 penalties, and a poorly managed final drive conspired to send a game that Tennessee should have won decisively to overtime.
There’s still plenty to be excited about moving forward for Tennessee fans. An offense that finished ninth nationally in total yards per game returns largely intact. Heupel has shown a fine ability to plan, and dial-up plays in crucial moments. His team was always ready to play, and he has not had any major off the field discipline issues.
More importantly, he will once again have one of the 20 most talented rosters in college football. The only teams the Vols will be at a talent disadvantage against will be Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and LSU. The future is bright.
But in the present, losing to a Purdue team that was so outmatched in what was a de facto home game will rightfully leave a bitter taste in fans’ mouths heading into the off season.