The quarterback race on Rocky Top between Harrison Bailey, Hendon Hooker, Brian Maurer and Joe Milton III is one of the biggest stories in the nation. Who will Tennessee football start after hiring a head coach famous for turning signal callers into superstars at the college level?
Although outlets agree that this is one of the most intriguing races, they often disagree on who will win the race. Steve Lassan of Athlon Sports listed UT’s quarterback race as one of the top 15 in the nation, and he predicted Bailey would win the job. One day later, Bill Bender of Sporting News listed it as one of the top 10 races in the nation and favored Milton.
Lassan actually spent more time explaining what Tennessee football’s offense will look like under Josh Heupel and making the case against other quarterbacks rather than making the case for Bailey. Here’s what he said about the situation.
"UCF averaged at least 40 points per game in all three of Josh Heupel’s seasons at the helm. Heupel isn’t likely to replicate that success in his first season on Rocky Top, but Tennessee’s offense is going to play with more tempo and take more shots downfield than it did under the previous staff. Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker and sophomore Harrison Bailey would seem to be the best fits out of a four-man battle. However, Brian Maurer is still in the mix, and the coaching staff added former Michigan signal-caller Joe Milton in late April. Milton doesn’t lack talent but struggled with the Wolverines after a strong 2020 debut at Minnesota. This battle isn’t likely to be decided until deep into preseason practice."
It makes sense to name Bailey and then Hooker for people who watched spring practice. After all, Bailey was the top performer in the spring and started two games for the Vols last year, and Hooker, who also performed well in the spring, is the most experienced player on the team as a graduate transfer from the Virginia Tech Hokies.
Bender, meanwhile, was much more open about who would win without making an official prediction. However, he noted that Milton, who transferred from the Michigan Wolverines, was getting the most hype. Here’s what he wrote about that situation.
"Milton is the betting favorite, but the competition is unpredictable at this point. Milton has a rocket arm, but he struggled with accuracy last season. Still, he is 6-5 and 243 pounds, and that skill-set could translate well with Heupel. He remains the best bet heading into the Sept. 2 opener against Bowling Green."
When you look at the fact that Milton is the one quarterback Heupel brought in himself and the fact that Heupel recruited him when he was offensive coordinator of the Missouri Tigers, he definitely has a strong case. There’s a reason Heupel seemed to tout him over other quarterbacks throughout the summer.
There really is a case to make for each quarterback to start. Maurer also has a strong case as the only dual-threat who is actually returning to Tennessee football. As a result, this could go in any direction, and with Heupel’s reputation, that certainly does make it interesting.