Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel has done a considerable amount in his short time in Knoxville. In just over a year’s agenda of work, Heupel and his staff have reshaped the trajectory of Tennessee football moving forward. Heupel also helped Tennessee rebound from a 3-7 season in 2020 to a 7-6 record in 2021 with a bowl appearance.
There’s still a lot to be done when it comes to Tennessee regaining the national prominence that it once held decades ago. However, if one season is any indication of the future, Tennessee should be happy with its current forecast.
Back in January, just a few weeks after the regular season had come to a close, Heupel was given a prestigious award by the Football Writer’s Association of America. Heupel, along with South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer, were named as the co-first year head coach award winners for the sport of college football. That marked the second time Heupel had won that award, with the first coming in 2018 with UCF.
On Thursday, CBS Sports released the next segment of their 2022 College Football Head Coach Power Rankings list. CBS Sports released the 1-25 rankings on Wednesday and followed that up with 26-65 on Thursday.
According to CBS Sports’ rankings, Josh Heupel comes in as the No. 33 ranked head coach in college football. Additionally, Heupel jumped up 19 spots from No. 52 in the 2021 rankings.
“This has nothing to do with Heupel specifically, but I smell some SEC bias here,” CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli wrote. “Yes, Heupel exceeded expectations at Tennessee in his first year, putting together a fun offense and leading the team to a 7-6 mark and the Music City Bowl. However, if he’d done the same thing at a program in another Power Five conference, would it warrant a 19-spot climb? I’m skeptical. All that aside, he’s the first Tennessee coach to finish his first season in Knoxville with a winning record since Lane Kiffin. Simply sticking around for a second season puts him ahead of schedule from that perspective!”
TCU head coach Sonny Dykes (No. 35) and Boston College’s Jeff Hafley (No. 34) come in right after Heupel, with Florida’s Billy Napier (No. 32) and Kansas State’s Chris Klineman (No. 31) landing right in front of Heupel.
Additionally, speaking of Florida, all 14 SEC head coaches do rank in CBS Sports’ Top 65 rankings. Heupel comes in as the 10th highest ranked coach from the SEC.
The SEC coaches are ranked below in order of appearance on the list with their overall ranking in parenthesis next to the name:
- Nick Saban – Alabama (1)
- Kirby Smart – Georgia (2)
- Jimbo Fisher – Texas A&M (5)
- Brian Kelly – LSU (7)
- Mark Stoops – Kentucky (16)
- Lane Kiffin – Ole Miss (18)
- Sam Pittman – Arkansas (22)
- Mike Leach – Mississippi State (26)
- Billy Napier – Florida (32)
- Josh Heupel – Tennessee (33)
- Shane Beamer – South Carolina (41)
- Eli Drinkwitz – Missouri (46)
- Bryan Harsin – Auburn (48)
- Clark Lea – Vanderbilt (57)
In his debut season in Knoxville, Heupel was 1-3 against teams with coaches ranked above him and 3-0 against coaches ranked below him. Coming up in 2022, Tennessee will face five of the nine coaches ahead of Heupel, which will give him an opportunity to gain some ground or even jump some of the competition.
Tennessee’s eight conference opponents next season include Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, and Vanderbilt.