Opportunity knocks for Josh Heupel and the Vols this week.
After a mediocre 2-2 start to the season, UT is riding high after throttling back-to-back SEC opponents. Granted, Mizzou and South Carolina are not world beaters, but they are the kind of opponents Tennessee has struggled with for years. To dominate those teams so thoroughly is a great sign that Heupel has the Vols headed in the right direction.
And now Lane Kiffin comes to town with Ole Miss ranked 13th in the AP poll. A game that many UT fans thought was unwinnable in the preseason now looks like a realistic chance for Heupel to notch the first big victory of his UT career.
Beating Mizzou and South Carolina, fun as it was for fans, probably doesn’t move the needle much nationally. A win against Kiffin and Ole Miss would raise eyebrows from coast to coast.
Beating the Rebels would make it clear to the rest of the college football universe that Tennessee can no longer be ignored.
No banners will be hung, and we won’t know for sure that Heupel is the right coach for UT after all. But it would be the most significant regular season win for the Vols since the Dobbs Nail Boot at Georgia in 2016.
Furthermore, beating Kiffin in Neyland would be a cathartic experience for a fan base that is still traumatized from the chain of events he set in motion when he left Knoxville 12 years ago.
Tennessee football was still a national player when Kiffin bolted after the 2009 season. That team had five players drafted in 2010. They were only a few years removed from the last SEC Championship Game appearance in 2007.
How fitting would it be if the true turning point in the Vols journey back to relevance came via defeating the man whose carelessness helped to crater the program all those years ago?
Heupel may not be a match for Kiffin in the charisma department, but if he wins this week, you won’t find any Vol fans wishing Lane would come back.
The simple fact is that Heupel was no Vol fan’s first choice when the UT job came open in January. He certainly wasn’t athletic director Danny White’s first choice.
But as the Rolling Stones taught us, you can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.
Is this the year Georgia finally wins it all?
They’re not likely to get a better chance anytime soon.
No team in the SEC East looks equipped to handle the Bulldogs ferocious defense and opportunistic offense.
Alabama looks as vulnerable as it has since Nick Saban’s first year in 2006. And there doesn’t appear to be any other true contenders in the West.
If Kirby Smart ever wins a national championship in Athens, it feels like it’s now or never.