The Tennessee Vols exceeded expectations in year one of the Josh Heupel era by going 7-6.

A year ago at this time — as the Vols were firing Jeremy Pruitt in light of an NCAA recruiting investigation — it felt like UT would be lucky to win five games in 2021.

Anyone who predicted that the Vols would win seven regular-season games last January would’ve been laughed off the internet.

Despite the great regular season, Tennessee finished the season on a bit of a sour note thanks to their controversial loss to the Purdue Boilermakers in the Music City Bowl (Paul Finebaum is crediting UT with eight wins). But there’s still plenty of optimism surrounding the program entering the 2022 season.

In fact, CBS Sports views the Volunteers as a top 25 team as we officially enter the college football offseason.

Here’s CBS Sports’ early 2022 pre-season top 25 rankings.

The Vols had the No. 7 scoring offense in the nation in 2021. It stands to reason that Tennessee should show significant improvement in 2022 — especially with quarterback Hendon Hooker and top wide receiver Cedric Tillman returning.

We’ve seen UT receive offseason hype before and fail to live up to the expectations.

This time around, however, feels different. It certainly seems like Heupel has this program heading in the right direction.

Featured image via Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports