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OPINION: Josh Heupel Will Make Tennessee Football Relevant Again

 

On the surface, Josh Heupel isn’t the splash hire that the fanbase was expecting when Tennessee ponied up to bring UCF AD Danny White to Knoxville.

He isn’t Lane Kiffin; he isn’t Hugh Freeze; hell, he isn’t even Jamey Chadwell. However, what does he have in common with those names?

He is an offensive innovator with a good reputation for developing QB’s and has had success as a head coach, owner of a 28-8 record in the best Group of 5 conference.

QB Play

He worked with Heisman winners Sam Bradford & Jason White during his stint at Oklahoma.

He recruited 1st round pick Jordan Love at Utah State (his only offer), helped to develop 1st round pick Drew Lock at Mizzou, and developed QB’s McKenzie Milton and Dillon Gabriel while at UCF.

Not to mention, Heupel himself was a Heisman finalist at Oklahoma as well.

Heupel knows the quarterback position, and most importantly, he knows how to develop them.

This is great news for Tennessee, as great QB play is an “eraser” of sorts.

It is the quickest way to improve on-field results and helps to mask shortcomings in other areas.

Tennessee has not had a prolific quarterback since Josh Dobbs, and time looks fondly upon how Dobbs could elevate the Vols during his time as a starter.

With Hendon Hooker, Kaidon Salter, and Harrison Bailey on the roster, it’ll be exciting to see how the new coaching staff will develop and utilize these talented quarterbacks that fit Heupel’s RPO offense (especially Hooker and Salter).

Offensive Performance/Tempo

Offense is at the forefront of the College Football landscape, and Tennessee is trying to head in that direction with this hire.

Josh Heupel’s offenses are exciting as they are predicated upon tempo, and his offenses got faster with each year at UCF (plays per game):

Rank 1 (2020, UCF) – 88 PPG
Rank 6 (2019, UCF) – 78.8 PPG
Rank 30 (2018, UCF) – 76.2 PPG

More importantly, his offenses have been one of the most effective in the country, according to advanced metrics. EPA/Play measures the impact each play has on the game, and Heupel’s offenses were elite during his time at UCF:

Rank 13 (2020, UCF) 0.141 EPA/Play
Rank 17 (2019, UCF) 0.113 EPA/Play
Rank 6 (2018, UCF) 0.168 EPA/Play

At Mizzou, he improved their offensive output year to year.

Before he arrived, Mizzou’s offense was putrid, ranking 121st at -0.241 EPA/Play in 2015.

In 2016, that jumped to 66th at -0.011 EPA/Play, and then 19th in 2017 at 0.089 EPA/Play – a marked improvement.

Resources

Based upon his history, there is no reason why Heupel cannot develop a QB at Tennessee and have his offense translate to the SEC.

At Tennessee, he will have a litany of resources at his disposal, which will allow Heupel to hire a top-notch coaching staff.

It also provides the means to recruit at a higher level than his previous stops.

Furthermore, the HC and AD are clearly in unison when it comes to football direction, and this cohesion will be important moving forward.

More so, the early returns from the players on Heupel are positive as well.

Although unpopular, Danny White’s decision to bring Josh Heupel to Knoxville will prove to be a sneaky good hire.

Heupel can, and will, return Tennessee to national prominence.

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