Tennessee football: Jalin Hyatt Orange Bowl opt-out helps Vols

It was certainly a letdown. After teasing a 1 p.m. ET announcement Wednesday morning, Tennessee football wide receiver Jalin Hyatt revealed on Twitter that he would be entering the NFL Draft and opting out of the Vols’ Orange Bowl against the Clemson Tigers.

Hyatt’s decision to enter the NFL Draft is certainly something Vol fans didn’t want. However, if he was going to enter the draft, he did them a benefit by opting out of the bowl game. There is nothing UT can gain from him playing in it.

Josh Heupel already has his wideouts in place for next year in Ramel Keyton and Bru McCoy, which is why it made sense for Cedric Tillman, who has been banged up all year, to opt out. What Tennessee football needs, though, is to find out what they have at quarterback and in the slot.

Joe Milton III is effectively auditioning for the starting job already, as he will be competing in the spring with Tayven Jackson, Nico Iamaleava and potentially a transfer or two. This is a head start for him, but it’s also a head start for the coaches to see what they have in him.

Hyatt playing in the bowl game does the coaches and Milton no favors if he’s not coming back next year. Milton needs to get used to working without Hyatt, and the coaches need to see what he can do without Hyatt. That’s one benefit of Hyatt not playing.

On top of that, the coaches need to figure out who will be Tennessee football’s slot receiver going forward. With Jimmy Holiday and Jimmy Calloway both in the transfer portal, it’s likely that Squirrel White is that player, but the coaches need to see how he does in real game time action beyond just mop-up duty.

White is a speedy receiver who stands at 5’10” 165 pounds and caught 21 passes for 373 yards and a touchdown this year. Many of his catches were from throws by Milton anyway, so they may have established a rapport. In real action against a team like Clemson, that could be on display.

If the Vols were in the College Football Playoff, then yes, you’d want Hyatt playing. However, they didn’t get in. The Orange Bowl is important for the future of the program given the states of the Vols and Clemson, but bowl games are still largely meaningless beyond the playoff.

This is obviously why the playoff is expanding. The goal is to make more of these postseason games matter once again and limit opt-outs, and this is the best way to do it. Until then, though, nobody gains from a player playing in a meaningless bowl game if he won’t be back next year.

Hyatt finishes his career with Tennessee football having caught 108 passes for 1,769 yards and 19 touchdowns. He caught 67 passes for 1,267 yards and a school-record 15 touchdowns this year en route to becoming the first Vol to win the Biletnikoff Award.