🏈 A fair ranking for Tennessee in 2023

Where should the Vols be right now?

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • Tennessee vs other top programs entering the 2023 football season

  • Peyton Manning’s praise for Josh Heupel and Joe Milton

  • Updates from Tennessee’s fall camp ahead of game-week prep

  • The next five-star prospect for Tennessee fans to watch


Barrett Sallee ruffled some feathers when he joined Josh and Swain last week.

We asked Barrett which SEC team was getting too much hype following the release of the USA Today Coaches Poll.

His answer: Tennessee.

Context needs to be included here.

Barrett, who covers college football for CBS Sports, doesn’t think Tennessee will be bad.

He has the Vols going 9-3 this season. (Listen to the full interview here.)

That’s the most likely record for Tennessee according to oddsmakers, in fact.

But Barrett said he doesn’t see Tennessee being a College Football Playoff contender and that a top-10 ranking is undeserved.

So what is a fair preseason ranking for Tennessee?

Here’s where Tennessee landed in some of the latest rankings.

⚫ Coaches Poll: 10th
⚫ AP Poll: 12th
⚫ Athlon Sports: 15th
⚫ ESPN Power Rankings: 11th

That 10-15 range is pretty consistent.

But again, is that fair?

Teams most commonly ahead of Tennessee include Clemson, Florida State, Penn State, Texas, and Washington.

They’re all good teams. But they’re also flawed.

Clemson’s place ahead of Tennessee has frustrated a lot of UT fans because the last game the two teams played ended with Tennessee beating Clemson.

So what gives?

It’s important to remember Tennessee has to replace several key players from last year’s team, including:

◼️ SEC offensive player of the year Hendon Hooker
◼️ Top-10 NFL draft pick Darnell Wright
◼️ Biletnikoff Award winner Jalin Hyatt

Questions at quarterback and the offensive line will often ding a team.

That probably happened to Tennessee here.

There are also reasons to be optimistic about how the Vols will answer those questions.

Joe Milton III has an abundance of talent at quarterback.

And the Vols’ system can help boost the offensive line.

While asking what’s a fair ranking for Tennessee, we should remember one other thing:

This doesn’t matter too much.

Tennessee opened last season unranked.

The Vols still had a playoff shot AFTER losing to Georgia.

Tennessee will play an SEC schedule that includes games against Alabama and Georgia.

If the Vols start 4-0 this season as projected, they’ll rank inside the top 10 — and no one will question it.

From that point, it will be up to Tennessee to prove it can win a title.

That’s all that matters.

Meanwhile, we have two more weeks to talk about all of this before the season begins.

What are the best- and worst-case scenarios for Tennessee this fall?

We discussed that topic with Chris Low of ESPN on Thursday.

Check out the segment below. ⬇️⬇️


Peyton Manning has seen Tennessee football at its best.

He’s also seen the program at its worst in recent years.

That’s why he’s happy to see the Vols performing at the level he remembers when he played at UT from 1994-97.

Manning joined The Nation on The Sports Animal on Sunday and discussed the state of the program under Heupel.

“It just seems to be a lot of energy around campus right now,” Manning said. “That’s the kind of program you want to play in. That's what it was like all four years for me when I was in school. There’s just an energy; there’s a lot of enthusiasm.”

Tennessee’s offense has helped create a lot of that energy.

When the Vols are expected to score a bunch of points, people are going to be excited.

Heupel’s offensive system has also faced criticism at times.

That happened again during the lead-up to the NFL Draft.

Manning pointed to the results when he discussed the offense Tennessee runs.

“It just works. It’s effective. Good coaches run the offense and recruit players that can execute that offense. That's the system, that's how that works and you build off of that, so Josh has been doing this for a long time. He knows ball, knows all the ins and outs, knows the kind of receivers that he wants, knows the kind of linemen and running backs that he wants and that's how you build a system, that's how you build a program. It’s fun to watch; I know that.“

Manning noted that players have fun playing in the offense.

That’s something Tennessee has sold to recruits and transfers.

The Vols have also sold the success of quarterback Hendon Hooker and the potential for Milton to break out this season.

Milton’s hype continues to build, by the way.

“I don’t know if he’s thrown a pick all training camp,” Heupel said on Wednesday.

Add Manning (that’s Professor Manning if you haven’t heard) to the list of people buying the talk of Milton breaking out this season.

Part of that comes from watching Milton throw at the Manning Passing Academy earlier this summer.

“I was impressed with his accuracy, his footwork. I could tell he’s worked on those things. I think he wants to be more than just a guy who can throw it so far down the field, which is great. But we’ve gotta be able to complete those intermediate throws and those touch passes over the middle. And I think Joe has really worked on that and I think that’s going to show up this year for sure. I’m excited about him. He’s got a great attitude.“

Manning also said he believes Milton’s success against Clemson in the Orange Bowl should help his confidence.

That’s probably boosted outsiders’ confidence in Milton, too.

If his last meaningful snap had been against Ole Miss in 2021, the conversation right now would be different.

Can Milton prove Manning right and build off his MVP performance in the Orange Bowl?

We’re only a few weeks away from finding out.


🏈 Ross Dellenger has the latest on ACC expansion discussions and influential people behind the scenes.

🏈 Check out ESPN’s Top 25 CFB Power Rankings with the best and worst case for each team.

🏈 The Michael Oher story has been a complicated one to follow this week. Here’s one update with lawyers for Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy saying they will end Oher’s conservatorship.

🏈 Here’s a list of five dark-horse candidates for the Vols this football season.

🏀 A five-star recruit left Louisville’s basketball program this week to play professionally in Australia’s National Basketball League.

⚽ One Knox SC is getting ready for a big home game against Lexington, two days after declaring Lexington “Knoxville’s little brother.”

⚽ Nashville SC will host Inter Miami CF and star Lionel Messi in the Leagues Cup Final on Saturday. The story has been the crazy ticket prices.

🎧 A chat with The Sports Rabbi in Israel about former Tennessee basketball standouts Kyle Alexander and Kevin Punter Jr.


Tennessee’s “camp” portion of fall practice is nearing its close.

Coaches will soon prepare like it’s the regular season, not the preseason.

Here are a few observations and talking points we’ve covered on the show with Tennessee having completed its second fall scrimmage.

➡️ Left guard remains a question

How Tennessee will do replacing Jerome Carvin remains a question.

Part of the holdup is the absence of center Cooper Mays, which affects the Vols at left guard.

When Mays comes back (Low mentioned the importance of getting him back for Florida), that could solve the problem.

Mays at center with Ollie Lane at left guard.

But it’s a position worth watching the first few weeks of the season.

➡️ Andre Turrentine continues to push at safety

The redshirt sophomore might end up starting.

After transferring from Ohio State a year ago, he’s emerged in Tennessee’s competition.

The entire secondary has benefited from the competition, something VFL Jonathan Wade talked about on Thursday’s show.

Another off-season topic focused on the young defensive backs.

Rickey Gibson might be the first one to watch against Virginia.

➡️ Watch for Cameron Seldon

He’s a freshman running back, which always causes pause.

How will he do in pass protection?

That’s the coaches’ No. 1 concern. But there’s no doubt about Seldon’s talent.

He’s big (6-2, 222) and can run.

Seldon is also a threat as a runner or receiver.

He looks like someone who will factor into the offense – and special teams – this fall.

➡️ Wide receiver hype won’t slow down

We’re just calling them the “Big Four” now.

We’ll see who leads the way statistically among Ramel Keyton, Bru McCoy, Dont’e Thornton and Squirrel White.

The excitement about their potential is obvious.

Josh and Swain listeners were predicting multiple 1,000-yard seasons among the receivers this week.

Hey, it’s August!

The chance for a big year from the Big Four is real, though.

And the potential for second-year receivers Chas Nimrod and Kaleb Webb looks good, too.

➡️ One other question remaining: The Edge

Will players step up to replace Byron Young?

Another one of those questions we won’t see answered until SEC play.

The options are there: Tyler Baron, Roman Harrison, Joshua Josephs, James Pearce.

The production needs to be there in the fall.


Tennessee is optimistic entering the Monday announcement from defensive lineman Jordan Ross.

Ross is a five-star prospect according to 247Sports and a consensus top-5 player in the state of Alabama.

He’s considering Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, and Texas.

There’s been a little “what about Auburn?” talk, but the biggest buzz this week has focused on the Vols.

The recruitment of Ross won’t end with his announcement on Monday.

But he’d go in the “Big Get” category if he chooses Tennessee.

Catch up on more recruiting + talk on the field in our latest conversation with Austin Price of Volquest. ⬇️⬇️

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