I love the National Football League as much as the next person, but there’s nothing like college football.

The recent completion of the pro football season was met with typical sorrow from many sports fans, but we’ve already been experiencing the pain without the college game for a few weeks.

It’s never a bad time to talk about college football, and never too early to look ahead to next season.

Tennessee heads into 2022 following an unexpectedly positive 7-6 season. While the roster isn’t yet at full scholarship capacity, there is enough talent there to continue the Vols’ upward momentum.

Here are 5 candidates to be the face of the program this upcoming season.

QB Hendon Hooker

This is the most obvious choice. Hooker is coming off a season in which he completed 68% of his passes for 2,945 yards and a very impressive 31-to-3, TD-to-INT ratio. He was also 2nd on the team in rushing with 616 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Hooker could have gone pro. The quarterbacking class for the 2022 NFL Draft is weaker than in years past. Plus he’s already played 5 years of college football. But his decision to return is a huge shot in the arm for the rebuilding Vols.

The quarterback often gets the most attention, and Hooker will get more than his share. His name has popped up on a few Heisman Trophy candidate lists as well.

WR Cedric Tillman

Hooker’s top target in 2021 was a player that only caught 8 passes during his first 3 seasons on Rocky Top. But Tillman was a breakout star last season, with a whopping 64 catches for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns, all team-highs.

Tillman’s numbers put him among the best all-time in Tennessee history for a single season, which is pretty impressive considering the wide receiver alums.

He was at his best against the eventual national champions from Georgia, catching 10 passes for 200 yards and a score.

Tillman isn’t a secret weapon anymore and should get even more attention with the departures for Velus Jones, Jr. and JaVonta Payton, who were 2nd and 3rd on the team in receiving yards, respectively.

LB Jeremy Banks

Thanks in large part to Tennessee’s fast-paced offense, the defense was on the field a lot in 2021. They averaged over 35 minutes a game, and no one was more of a force in that time than linebacker Jeremy Banks.

He led the team in solo tackles (59), assisted tackles (69) and total tackles (128). He was tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (5.5).

Banks made some huge plays and more is expected in what will be his final season.

DL Byron Young

The former JUCO transfer took a long road to get to Tennessee but proved to be worth the wait in 2021.

Young tied Banks for the team leads in tackles for loss and sacks. He started 8 games and collected 46 tackles, 2nd among defensive linemen.

He was terrific in the Music City Bowl, with an INT and a career-high 8 tackles with 2.5 tackles for a loss.

Young could be in position for a huge 2022.

WR Kaleb Webb

Want a newcomer for this list? How about the 4-star wide receiver from Powder Springs, Georgia.

Webb was a late-bloomer in high school before racking up over 1,600 receiving yards as a senior. Tennessee pulled Webb away from East Carolina late in the recruiting for the Class of 2022. He’s 6-3, runs the 100 meters in less than 11 seconds and has the tools to be a difference-maker in the vertical game.

We mentioned earlier that Jones and Payton have moved on. And while there are other young receivers on the roster, none has proven yet to be ready to take on the added responsibility. Webb will get his shot in the months to come.