Amidst all the talk about Tennessee football taking a huge hit in the transfer portal, what’s flying under the radar is the fact that the Vols significantly upgraded at the most important position in the portal. Combine that with a quarterback guru in Josh Heupel becoming their head coach, and you’ve got amazing potentia.
Two of UT’s quarterbacks, Joe Milton from the Michigan Wolverines and Hendon Hooker from the Virginia Tech Hokies, made multiple lists this week ranking impact transfers for the year. Hooker, meanwhile, made an elite list ranking all quarterbacks nationally.
Pete Fiutak of College Football news had both players tied at No. 20 in his list of the top 21 instant impact transfers, implying that whichever quarterback started would be the one to rank there. Here’s what he said on them.
"The Vols lost a ton of talent to the transfer portal, but new head coach Josh Heupel has a slew of quarterbacks to choose from. There are already a few nice options in place, but Hooker was a rising star at Virginia Tech and Milton has all the tools – but couldn’t put them together – at Michigan. Whoever gets the gig will be a statistical star."
Both quarterbacks came in at No. 8 in the top 50 transfer quarterback rankings by Steve Lassan of Athlon Sports. Again, they occupied the same slot with the assumption that the one who starts will make that spot. Here’s some of what he wrote.
"Milton showed promise in the ’20 opener for Michigan by running for 52 yards and a touchdown and throwing for 225 yards and a score in a 49-24 win over Minnesota. However, his play tailed off over the next few games, especially with a completion percentage below 50 percent in that span. Similar to Milton, Hooker showed promise (albeit in a bigger sample size) in his career at Virginia Tech. The North Carolina native threw for 2,894 yards and 22 touchdowns to only seven picks from 2019-20. Hooker also connected on 63.1 percent of his throws and added 1,033 yards and 15 scores on the ground. Milton has untapped upside for Heupel to utilize, but Hooker likely has a better chance to start this fall."
Simply put, both quarterbacks are bringing some hype. Milton was specifically targeted by Heupel and is the one quarterback on the roster he signed. In fact, Heupel recruited Milton when he was offensive coordinator of the Missouri Tigers.
That connection suggests Milton may be the favorite to start and will occupy both slots. Heupel went out of his way to praise Milton specifically twice at SEC Media Days, which we wrote about here, so despite him not competing in the spring, Milton could be leading the quarterbacks.
On the other hand, the data favors Hooker, who came in at No. 29 nationally and as the projected starter for the Vols in a ranking of all 130 projected FBS starters by Anthony Treash of PFF. Treash touted Hooker’s ability in the play-action game and his mobility as reasons to believe in him. Here’s a bit of what he wrote.
"Hooker’s passing grade on play-action dropbacks was nearly 30 grading points higher than it was on straight dropbacks (85.9 versus 57.0) in 2020, and his completion rate differential led all FBS quarterbacks (+13.5%). Heupel led a UCF offense that dialed up play action at a top-10 rate in 2020 (45%), with many of the resulting passes targeting go-routes down the sideline. Hooker won’t consistently hit those nine routes as often as Heupel’s last quarterback, Dillon Gabriel, but that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a good quarterback for the Volunteers."
It is true that Hooker is the more proven quarterback and the one with experience running an offense somewhat similar to what Hepel runs. That could work in his favor when Tennessee football kicks off the season this fall.
Of course, it’s possible that neither of these guys makes any list. After all, Harrison Bailey was the best performer in spring ball and outperformed Hooker. The pro-style rising sophomore may be a better fit an another offense, but given his accuracy, he could thrive in Heupel’s offense. Brian Maurer is still there too, and don’t sleep on him.
As we’ve said all offseason, despite the other issues, Tennessee football has a good problem at quarterback. Milton and Hooker are just part of that good problem, but the experience they bring could be critical to the Vols having a successful first year.