PHOTOS: Vols defeat Clemson in Orange Bowl

Coach Josh Heupel, Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton III smile during the trophy presentation at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium.

In August of last year, I wrote a column explaining some concerns I had about Josh Heupel. I was worried about how his defense had performed in the biggest moments of his career. In addition, I pointed out that the Vols' schedule was fairly difficult and Will Levis and Anthony Richardson could make huge leaps in their junior years. I predicted the team would go 7-5.

I could not have been more wrong. The Vols crushed even the highest of expectations with the best offense in the country. Josh Heupel made Hendon Hooker into a Heisman contender, Jalin Hyatt into a Day 1 or Day 2 NFL draft pick and the Vols into the No. 1 team in the country heading into the Georgia game.

While the Georgia game turned ugly and the South Carolina meltdown was an embarrassment, those were two small blemishes in an otherwise historic season. The monumental 52-49 win over Alabama on a “Tennessee Saturday Night” featured the most points scored against Nick Saban since Sept. 7, 1996.

In spite of the season’s countless accolades, the most impressive thing Josh Heupel did was put Joe Milton into next season’s Heisman conversation with a dominating win over Clemson. Any Michigan fan can tell you Joe Milton was one of the most inaccurate, raw QBs in Big 10 history. If Josh Heupel and new offensive coordinator Joey Halzle can revitalize Milton’s career, then any QB can thrive and develop in their system.

Josh Heupel ended fifteen years of mediocre Tennessee football because he is the best offensive play-caller in the nation. It didn’t matter that the Vols defense ranked 128th out of 131 FBS teams in passing yards allowed. Their offense was the best in the country with 44.5 points per game, more than even Ohio State with its cupcake schedule.

Heupel’s signature spread wide formation stretches defenses thin by positioning WRs as far apart as possible, employing creative pre-snap and post-snap motions and maintaining a lightning-fast tempo. His unique offense builds on the philosophies of Mike Leach, Kliff Kingsbury, Lincoln Riley and others to create a distinctive scheme that is unlike any other in modern college football. As defenses adapt in future seasons, Heupel’s ability to innovate should allow him to stay one step ahead of the great defensive coaches.

Going forward, Josh Heupel has positioned the Vols in a “high ceiling, high floor” situation. If the Vols defense remains below average or even mediocre, the offense is still enough to keep the Vols competitive against nearly every team in the country (high floor). And if the defense can improve with some promising new recruits and transfers, the sky's the limit.

I was wrong about Josh Heupel because I did not realize how generational of a play caller he is. Danny White hit a home run by hiring an offensive mastermind. As long as Heupel is Tennessee’s coach, the Vols will be one of the best football teams in the country. And now that he has his hands on two future first-round pick QB talents…look out.

Daniel Scrugham is a senior studying business analytics and the co-host of “Our Wives Hate This NFL Podcast." He can be reached at

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