Tennessee football's Nico Iamaleava is set to have a breakout season

Vanderbilt v Tennessee
Vanderbilt v Tennessee / Eakin Howard/GettyImages

Josh Heupel is developing his third quarterback in four years as Tennessee football prepares to bounce back to SEC contention after a less-than-impressive 2023 season. The Vols have won 27 games in Heupel's three years and will look to compete in a newly expanded SEC with a redshirt freshman at quarterback. 

Nico Iamaleava is up for the challenge. He came to Knoxville as the No. 2 player in the 2023 recruiting class and the No. 1 player out of California, according to 247 Sports. As a result, he has been one of, if not the most anticipated player on Rocky Top in my lifetime. 

The redshirt freshman appeared in five games as a true freshman, including starting the Citrus Bowl and leading the Vols to a 35-0 win over Iowa. He was on mop-up duty in most of his appearances, so he didn't get to show as much as many fans wanted to see out of him throughout most of the season. 

ESPN shares the sentiment that Nico is highly anticipated, as he lands at the top of their list of the top ten most anticipated players in college football ahead of the 2024 college football season. 

"There's no surprise here," ESPN writer Paolo Uggetti writes. "One of the most highly touted and anticipated players in last year's high school class is set to get his shot at being Tennessee's starting quarterback this season after a four-touchdown, MVP-winning performance in the Citrus Bowl last season. Iamaleava may be young, slight, and inexperienced, but the hype surrounding him has been present for a reason."

During last year's Citrus Bowl, Nico showed he could be successful with his arms and legs. An experienced offensive line and weapons on the perimeter surround him. Heupel and the coaching staff have done a great job building a strong foundation throughout each position group on the offense to help Nico succeed in the offense. 

Here is the full list of most-anticipated players ahead of the 2024 college football season. 

1. Nico Iamaleava, QB, Tennessee

2. Raylen Wilson, LB, Georgia

3. Jeremiah Smith, WR, Ohio State

4. Suntarine Perkins, LB, Ole Miss

5. Justice Haynes, RB, Alabama

6. Rueben Bain Jr., Edge, Miami

7. Zachariah Branch, WR, USC

8. Darrell Jackson Jr., DL, Florida State

9. Rueben Owens, RB, Texas A&M

10. Teitum Tuioti and Mateo Uiagalelei, Edge, Oregon