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College Football Preview 2024: Tennessee Volunteers win projections, strengths and weaknesses, quarterback spotlight and more

2X2J48F Tennessee defensive lineman James Pearce Jr. (27) sets up for a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Florida, Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (Phelan M. Ebenhack via AP)

Year 3 of the Josh Heupel era at Tennessee might not have been as magical as 2022, but the Volunteers still finished with a 9-4 record that was capped off by a Citrus Bowl victory over Iowa.

Tennessee has now finished in the top 20 of the AP poll in back-to-back seasons, something it hadn’t accomplished in 19 years. The Volunteers have high expectations to keep the good times rolling in 2024, thanks to a potentially explosive offense. The biggest questions come defensively. Outside of superstar edge defender James Pearce Jr., the Volunteers have major concerns on that side of the ball.

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Biggest Strength: High-upside passing game

Tennessee’s passing game has immense potential this season. Quarterback Nico Iamaleava is a former top-three overall recruit and flashed in the Citrus Bowl against Iowa, posting an 84.9 grade in the victory. The Volunteers also have a top-15 receiving corps in the nation and an innovative offensive mind in head coach Josh Heupel.

Biggest Weakness: Will James Pearce Jr. be enough for the defense?

While Tennessee’s defense features the nation’s best pass-rusher in James Pearce Jr., many questions remain on that side of the ball. The biggest of which are at the second and third levels. Of the nine Volunteer linebackers/cornerbacks/safeties that played 300 snaps last year, only one returned.

2023 Team Overview

EPA per play Yards per play Successful play rate Explosive run play rate Explosive pass play rate
0.063 6.4 39.2% 20.7% 12.9%
43rd T-25 20th 6th T-89th
EPA allowed per play Yards allowed per play Successful play rate allowed Explosive run rate allowed Explosive pass rate allowed
-0.108 5.1 30.4% 14.1% 15.2%
23rd T-26th 19th 47th T-97th

Three Notable Transfer Portal Additions

  • OT Lance Heard (LSU): 71.4 PFF grade
  • WR Chris Brazzell II (Tulane): 76.3 PFF grade
  • CB Jermod McCoy (Oregon State): 64.2 PFF grade

Three Notable Transfer Portal Losses

  • EDGE Tyler Baron (Miami FL): 78.5 PFF grade
  • S Tamarion McDonald (Louisville): 76.3 PFF grade
  • CB Doneiko Slaughter (Arkansas): 55.5 PFF grade

Quarterback Spotlight: Nico Iamaleava

2023 Grade: 78.0
Key Stat: 85.0 passing grade, four touchdowns in first career start (Citrus Bowl vs. Iowa)


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