Josh Heupel’s first season as the Tennessee Vols head football coach came to a rough end with a loss to Purdue in the Music City Bowl. But, the season as a whole was more impressive than many people expected and there’s still plenty of enthusiasm surrounding the program.

With the offseason now setting in, a whole set of important players have announced they will be returning for another season in Knoxville, including receiver Cedric Tillman and defensive back Trevon Flowers. Most importantly among the group of returning starters is quarterback Hendon Hooker. He’ll be around for one more year but after 2022, his eligibility will be exhausted.

As a result, Heupel and Tennessee must also use this offseason to prepare for the future of the quarterback position. Four-star QB Tayven Jackson is already in the fold but more competition and depth in the QB room can never hurt.

There are a number of 2023 and 2024 quarterbacks that Heupel is working to get in an orange uniform but something caught my eye this week that basically ensures that Heupel should never have a particularly tough time getting top-notch quarterback talent in the door.

What made me raise my eyebrows is nothing more than Hendon Hooker’s 2021 statistics. In 13 games, Hooker threw for 2,945 yards on 206 completions (68.3% completion percentage) with 31 touchdowns and 3 interceptions and he ran for 613 yards and 5 touchdowns. Hooker also had the No. 3 quarterback rating in America at 182.01.

Simply put, it was one of the best seasons ever by a UT signal-caller.

These numbers are obviously impressive but what made it clear to me that Hooker’s stats should speak volumes to recruits is when you compare them to Hooker’s time at Virginia Tech. In 18 games with the Hokies, Hooker threw for 2,894 yards on 312 completions (63.2% completion percentage) with 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and he ran for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns.

The difference between these two sets of stats is stark. Heupel had Hooker putting up far better numbers in nearly every category in FIVE fewer games. Heupel’s offense seems to have flipped a switch for Hooker and we should only expect things to get better next year.

But the long-term future is obviously the biggest hurdle for Heupel as the Vols’ head man. He has to get more big-time players to sign on the dotted line if he wants to stick around for a while and few positions are more crucial than QB.

But, that should be much easier when Heupel can just place Hendon Hooker’s career numbers in front of a prospect. It’s crystal clear at this point that the Vols’ head coach knows how to make QBs great. Now, all he has to do is go out and find more QBs to coach.

Featured image via Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports