Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel has done an incredible job during his first 10 months in Knoxville.
Heupel turned Tennessee’s stagnant offense into one of the most exciting offenses in the nation (No. 109 scoring offense in 2020, compared to No. 9 scoring offense in 2021).
He’s also turned the Vols’ culture around. What was once a toxic environment where players felt like they were “just getting through” is now an environment where players are actually excited to go to practice.
“It’s a totally different mindset,” said Vols pass rusher Tyler Baron before the start of the season. “People are taking more advantage of everything and it’s going to be really positive.”
“The biggest thing for me is the mindset of the team and the mindset in the building. Everybody is looking for how they can improve more so than just getting through. Everybody is determined.”
The only knock on Heupel so far this season has been his recruiting.
But that’s been a bit overblown.
It’s true that Tennessee needs to recruit better to compete for an SEC East division title.
However, folks need to realize that this rebuild is a marathon, not a sprint.
The Volunteers currently have the No. 22 recruiting class in the country. That’s not bad considering Tennessee’s 2022 class was ranked around No. 38 in the country a month ago.
UT appears to be gaining some momentum on the recruiting trail, too. Several 2022 recruits are showing strong interest in Tennessee. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vols finish with a top 15-20 class, which would be impressive in Heupel’s first season.
By comparison, Jeremy Pruitt’s first class at UT in 2018 was ranked No. 21 in the nation. And the top player in that class — four-star linebacker J.J. Peterson — never made an impact for the Vols.
Pruitt’s first true “full class” (in 2019) was ranked No. 13 in the country.
Heupel is essentially right in line with Pruitt’s recruiting efforts (and Heupel is presumably not using the same shady recruiting methods as Pruitt).
Josh Heupel is out-recruiting some marquee programs
Florida currently has the No. 40 recruiting class in the country, while Auburn has the No. 32 recruiting class in the country.
Both of those programs were considered to be in “better shape” than Tennessee entering the season (Florida was coming off an SEC East division title and Auburn hasn’t had a losing season since 2012). The Vols, however, are recruiting better than the Gators and Tigers.
Additionally, Ole Miss, a program that went 10-2 this season and is ranked No. 8 in the nation, currently has the No. 38 recruiting class in the country.
Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin is viewed as an elite recruiter, but he hasn’t been able to recruit to Heupel’s level.
This narrative that Heupel can’t recruit is completely misguided. It’s a strange narrative that isn’t rooted in facts.
And the good news is that Tennessee’s recruiting under Heupel is only going to improve from here, as the Vols’ on-field results continue to improve.
There are plenty of reasons for Vol fans to be excited about the future of Tennessee football. Recruiting is one of those reasons.
Featured image via Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK