Outlet picks Tennessee football QB, ranks him near bottom of SEC

Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III (7) during the team's football practice on Tuesday, August 10, 2021.Kns Ut Football Practice Bp
Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III (7) during the team's football practice on Tuesday, August 10, 2021.Kns Ut Football Practice Bp /

Despite no named starting quarterback yet, that has been a perceived strength for Tennessee football heading into the 2021 season. The Vols have two former four-stars, one of whom is a graduate transfer with tons of experience, and a former five-star.

Oh, and they now have Josh Heupel, a known quarterback guru, coaching them. None of that seems to be enough, though, one outlet. In a ranking of all 130 FBS teams by Steve Lassan of Athlon Sports, UT’s starting quarterback came in at No. 85.

Lassan named Michigan Wolverines transfer Joe Milton as his projected starter over Harrison Bailey Virginia Tech Hokies graduate transfer Hendon Hooker. Milton’s ranking, though, was next to last among SEC quarterbacks. Here’s a bit of what Lassan said.

"Hooker and Bailey were positioned as the favorites in the spring, but Milton’s development this fall is the x-factor in the quarterback derby. Hooker was a solid performer from 2019-20 at Virginia Tech, throwing for 2,894 yards and 22 touchdowns to just seven picks and running for just under 1,000 yards and 14 scores in that span. Milton had a strong debut for Michigan in last year’s opener but struggled the rest of the way. Heupel can tweak his scheme to fit whichever quarterback wins the job, and the new staff should feel relatively confident in this position considering the options in Knoxville this fall."

If he’s basing this off of what Milton has done at the college level so far, it makes sense. However, you would have to think that Milton would be higher if Lassan would have been higher on Hooker or Bailey starting but Milton beat them both out.

The only SEC quarterback ranked below Milton was Luke Doty of the South Carolina Gamecocks, who came in at No. 104. Ironically, former USC QB Jake Bentley, now with the South Alabama Jaguars, who will face UT this year, was ahead of Milton at No. 82.

Even Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis and Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Ken Seals were ahead of him, at No. 84 and No. 81 respectively. Simply put, Lassan had no respect for Milton or what Heupel could do with Milton in his rankings.

Given all the issues elsewhere, UT desperately needs success from its quarterback, whomever wins the job, in 2021. Heupel was hired because of his ability to maximize quarterback play, and if that doesn’t happen this year, the Vols could be in trouble.

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Obviously, quarterback play was a huge target of Tennessee football’s struggles last year. If Heupel can improve that and make it a strength for the Vols, that’s the first step to turning things around. This ranking does generate skepticism behind that, though.