Tennessee vol

Dangerous Tennessee football weapon identified as 2024 breakout star

This player could make the Vols one of the best in the SEC in 2024.

Tennessee football logo and unknown player.
Even now, at the midpoint of June, college football feels like it’s forever away, yet it also feels like it’s just around the corner. With each passing day, teams like Tennessee football and others across the sport are ramping up their efforts before their opening kickoffs.

The Volunteers look to be an interesting bunch in 2024. After what was the best season in Knoxville in decades in 2022, where the team at one point ranked No. 1 in the country, Tennessee took a small step back in 2023. With the loss of some talented receivers and veteran quarterback Hendon Hooker, the Vols entered last season with question marks along with hype after finishing 11-2.

Michigan transfer quarterback Joe Milton was not the answer everyone had hoped for after Hooker left, while season-ending injuries to receivers like Bru McCoy put a further damper on the passing game. Still, the Vols’ offense finished 19th in the country in total offense, scoring 53 touchdowns and averaging 6.76 yards per play and 448 yards per game. But that was quite a drop-off from being No. 1 in the country the year before when they averaged 7.2 yards per play and 525.5 yards per game.

Going 9-4 with a second straight bowl win should still be considered a massive win considering the last two decades that Tennessee football has gone through, where that sort of win total or better was rare. Is that possible in 2024, though?

Tennessee football should be improved in 2024
Sep 23, 2023; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; The Tennessee Volunteers run through the T before the game against the UTSA Roadrunners at Neyland Stadium.
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Getting and staying healthy will be something that head coach Josh Heupel hopes for in 2024. As mentioned, injuries to the receiving corps hurt Tennessee football last season. McCoy announced he will be returning to rejoin last year’s leading receiver Squirrel White, Oregon transfer Donte Thornton Jr., this year’s transfer from Tulane in Chris Brazzell II, and Notre Dame tight end Holden Staes.

Much like last year when they beat Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Tennessee football has some momentum on their side. After going on a two-game skid in November last year, albeit losing to two of the SEC’s best in Georgia and Missouri, the Vols finished with a decisive win over Vanderbilt and a Citrus Bowl victory over 20th-ranked Iowa to end their year.

However, what’s most promising is what was displayed during the Citrus Bowl. With Milton deciding to opt out of the bowl game, that left the quarterback duties up to highly-touted freshman Nico Iamaleava.

Tennessee football starting QB Nico Iamaleava will keep the Vols competitive in the SEC
Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava (8) warming up for the Citrus Bowl NCAA College football game on Monday, January 1, 2024 in Orlando, Fla.
© Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
Once Hooker ran out of eligibility and left for the NFL, there was very little surprise as to who would be the next starting quarterback for Tennessee football. Milton had patiently waited his turn after leaving Ann Arbor for Knoxville and was at one point the starter over Hooker to begin the 2021 season. So unless something catastrophic had occurred, Milton was always going to be the starter for 2023. That didn’t stop Vols fans from clamoring for Iamaleava, however.

Every missed throw or errant pass from Milton led to more and more Iamaleava roars. Though there were games where he did get some playing time, they were mostly in garbage time for the true freshman. That was until the Citrus Bowl.

After 12 games of Milton starting for the season, the 13th and finale against one of the better defenses in the country in Iowa was left for Iamaleava. In a 35-0 thumping by the Vols over the Hawkeyes, the new starting quarterback scored the first touchdown of the game on a 19-yard run, then scored the next two on a three-yarder and two-yarder before his final on an 18-yard pass to McCallan Castles. For the day, he finished 12-for-19 with 151 yards passing, 27 rushing, and four total touchdowns.

Iamaleava came to Knoxville full of hype, a consensus five-star and ranked as the No. 2 quarterback prospect in the country, according to 247Sports. So, there was good reason Vols fans have been impatiently waiting for him to take the reins. As he’ll now be the full-time starter, Tennessee has endless possibilities ahead of them, especially with the expanded College Football Playoff coming this season. Because of the importance of the quarterback position, coupled with his skill set, Iamaleava changes the entire dynamic of Tennessee football in 2024.

Shane Shoemaker is an Associate Editor and Editorial writer for ClutchPoints, covering a wide range of sports and entertainment topics including NCAA Football, NFL, and MLB. Shane is a graduate from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga with a BA in Communications/Journalism.

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