Enjoy As The College Football World Fixes Its Gaze On Knoxville, Tennessee

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    Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

    I am 23-years old. I pride myself on my historical knowledge of the Tennessee football program, but I haven’t been alive to know the intricacies of every era of Volunteer football.

    Tennessee hasn’t been very good at football for most of my life, but I’d never seen more apathy surrounding the program than I did when Josh Heupel took over as the Vols’ head coach in January 2021.

    For as wild and crazy as Vol fans can be, that craze is far better than apathy. People don’t get mad when they’re apathetic. They simply don’t care. There’s nothing worse for a proud program than its fans to be disappointed to the point of apathy.

    That’s precisely where Tennessee was when Heupel first landed at McGhee Tyson Airport. Of course, people cared about the hire and the state of the program but apathy shined brightly through.

    Fast forward 16 games to today and there in no apathy surrounding the Tennessee football program. Most of it was gone by the time Heupel’s high powered offense humiliated SEC foes Missouri and South Carolina in early October last fall.

    The minuscule parcels remaining left earlier this month when Tennessee exited Pittsburgh with a victory and top 15 ranking.

    No one is proclaiming the Vols “back” just yet but the excitement and buzz around the program is certainly back.

    This week is a culmination of Heupel’s first 21 months as Tennessee’s head coach. The Vols aren’t where the second-year head coach wants to get them, but there’s not an ounce of apathy around the program anymore.

    In fact, the eyes of the college football world fixes its gaze on Knoxville, Tennessee this weekend. ESPN’s College Gameday, the Barstool College Football Show and Josh Pate’s Late Kick Live will all be in Knoxville for the top 20 matchup between the Vols and Gators.

    It’s been a tough 14 years for the Tennessee football program. But for one weekend there will be no better place to be in the college football world than Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.

    Enjoy it.

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    Once kick off is here, all the focus will, and should, be on the game. Once the game is over, the focus will rightly be on the monumental win or devastating loss that occurred.

    But this week, in the midst of thinking about the hundreds of ways Tennessee can beat— or lose to— Florida, think about the spectacle of a top 20 rivalry game in relation to the apathy from 21 months ago and the irrelevance of Tennessee football the last decade-and-a-half.

    Getting to this point doesn’t mean Heupel is the one that will take Tennessee back to the promised land. Progress isn’t always linear and the task will only get harder for Heupel and his staff once competing with Alabama and Georgia year in, year out becomes the expectation.

    But for this week, appreciate the buzz that Heupel has restored around the Tennessee program.  The buzz that makes big games like Saturday’s feel larger than life. Buzz isn’t everything, but if you’re still reading this you know how much better it is than the alternative.

    Ryan Schumpert is a recent graduate of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. Ryan spent three years with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program before joining RTI. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.