Tennessee football is a College Football Playoff team in 2024

Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava (8) warming up for the Citrus Bowl NCAA College football game
Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava (8) warming up for the Citrus Bowl NCAA College football game / Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY

Tennessee football is preparing for the 2024 season, led by redshirt freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava. This year will be a unique test for Josh Heupel, given that this will be the first season Tennessee will not have an experienced quarterback running the offense. 

That's not changing expectations for Tennessee ahead of this fall with all the hype surrounding Nico and a possible Heisman campaign if everything goes right for the Vols' young quarterback. But what is the ceiling and floor for Tennessee this season? Could they be national championship contenders or even make the College Football Playoff?

On3Sports' Andy Staples answers those questions as he addresses every SEC team's floor and ceiling for the 2024 college football season. He has three SEC teams above Tennessee and national championship contenders. Alabama, Georgia, and Texas all have a National title ceiling and 9-3 floor for the 2024 season. 

Tennessee is in the "second tier" of SEC teams, with a ceiling of a College Football Playoff berth and at least one playoff win and a floor of 8-4. This seems to be right in Tennessee's wheelhouse and falls within the expectations of most Tennessee fans. The Vols and Missouri also fall into this category. 

"This is a lot to put on the shoulders of quarterback Nico Iamaleava, who only has one start on his record so far," Staples writes. "But we’ve seen enough to know that some of the limitations the offense had when Joe Milton ran it should be history. Iamaleava is a more instinctive runner, a better improvisor and his comfort with the read-option mesh should allow for more run-pass option plays that should allow Tennessee to begin attacking the middle of the field again.

"The defensive line, led by potential top-five draft pick James Pearce Jr., is as deep as Tennessee has had in years. The Volunteers might not be as explosive offensively as they were in 2022, but they might be more complete.

"Whether they can make the playoff likely depends on whether they can beat one of Alabama or Georgia. The N.C. State matchup in Charlotte on Sept. 7 should offer a glimpse of whether Tennessee is for real, and facing Oklahoma in its first SEC game in Norman on Sept. 21 will be challenging not just because of the other team on the field but because of the buzz that should envelop the town that day. (No, not because Heupel is returning to the alma mater that fired him as offensive coordinator.)"

This means Tennessee will fall between the 11 and eight-win range this season and advance past the first round of the new 12-team College Football Playoff. While the playoffs are expanded, this would be a great season for the Vols to win a playoff game in Nico's first season as the starting quarterback. 

Nico won't be playing alone, though. He will have a veteran offensive line anchored down by Cooper Mays and Lance Heard, veteran skill players that include returning Bru McCoy, Squirrel White, and transfer Chris Brazzell. Tennessee will have plenty of experience around Nico to help him settle in early in the season.

Staples also offered a few SEC teams with a CFP berth as their ceiling. Those teams are LSU, Oklahoma, and Texas A&M. These teams aren't projected to win the SEC this season but could win ten games and clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff. 

This is a realistic expectation for most Tennessee fans. We don't know how the offense will look with Nico at the helm, but we will have a pretty good idea after Tennessee's early season matchups against North Carolina State and Oklahoma. Those two games could tell us if the Vols are legit contenders to make the CFP or settling in for an eight-win season.

Next. Tennessee football opens as underdogs in three big SEC games. Tennessee football opens as underdogs in three big SEC games. dark