One of the top storylines for Tennessee football heading into the 2021 season was how they were absolutely gutted by the transfer portal.

Taking a quick look at the running count from 247Sports, 28 players left the program from the end of the 2020 season to the kickoff of the 2021 season.

That list included their best overall player the last 2 years (LB Henry To’o To’o, who went to rival Alabama), their top running back (Eric Gray to Oklahoma), one of their best offensive linemen (Wayna Morris to Oklahoma) and their top recruit from the Class of 2021 (safety Key Lawrence to, you guessed it, Oklahoma).

Linebacker Quavaris Crouch bolted for Michigan State, offensive lineman Jahmir Johnson left for Texas A&M … heck even their placekicker and punter took off as Brent Cimaglia transferred to Georgia Tech and Joe Doyle left for Memphis.

The Vols lost a ton of quality from a team that, frankly, wasn’t very good to begin with, and there was a lot of doom and gloom around the program.

But maybe we shouldn’t have been centering our attention on those players that left, and instead talked more about the players that stuck around to play for new coach Josh Heupel.

Read More

Online sports betting has come or is coming to many southern states. Residents of states where legalized sports betting exists can bet on things like the Heisman race, SEC football games each week and more... all right from their mobile device.

They (along with transfer QB Hendon Hooker) are a key reason the 5-5 Vols are on the verge of becoming bowl eligible.

Redshirt senior Velus Jones Jr. transferred to Tennessee before the 2020 season and immediately become a team leader. This year he’s been solid for the Vols, with 44 catches for 597 yards and 6 touchdowns. He’s also gained over 500 yards combined in kickoff and punt returns.

Redshirt junior Cedric Tillman hadn’t done very much in his first 3 seasons at Tennessee, but he has had a breakout 2021 campaign. After catching only 3 passes in 2020, he heads into the final 2 games of the schedule with impressive numbers. He leads the team with 46 catches for 725 yards and 6 scores.

Tillman waited for his opportunity and has made the most of it.

On the offensive line, veterans Darnell Wright and Jerome Carvin in particular have given the Vols much-needed experience.

Redshirt junior Jeremy Banks (pictured, above) knew that with the departure of To’o To’o, a lot of responsibility was going to fall on his shoulders in the middle of that defense. All he’s done is stuff the stat sheet with 89 tackles, and 44 of the solo variety. He leads the Vols in tackles for loss with 9, and in sacks with 4.5.

Banks has put together an all-SEC level season. Tennessee’s undermanned defense would have been in a world of hurt without him.

Junior Aaron Beasley went from a mere 7 tackles in 2020 to 65 and counting in 2021. He’s recorded 4.5 tackles for loss and even recovered 2 fumbles.

On that defense especially, there are so many players that chose to give Heupel and defensive coordinator Tim Banks a chance, and they are having very good seasons. Trevon Flowers, Theo Jackson and Alontae Taylor have each made big plays in the secondary.

In the current landscape of college football, it is easier than ever for players to transfer. That’s not a bad thing. Coaches could pick up and leave on a moment’s notice, while players often had to jump through multiple hoops to leave a program.

That said, the grass isn’t always greener. Some players enter the transfer portal and end up in a worse situation. Some players don’t get a new home at all.

Many of the experienced players at Tennessee that made the decision to stay in Knoxville gambled and so far it has paid off, both for them as individuals and for the team overall.

Again, Tennessee obviously benefitted from Hooker’s arrival. But Hooker wasn’t part of the offseason narrative that spoke only of the Vols’ losses. The transfer portal was not kind, but Heupel and this coaching staff made it work … thanks in large part to the talented players that stayed with the program.