Tennessee football: Vols can dunk on Vanderbilt in Music City Bowl

Josh Heupel, Tennessee Volunteers. (USA Today)
Josh Heupel, Tennessee Volunteers. (USA Today) /

Tennessee football really does have a stranglehold on the state, with the Music City Bowl serving as the latest bit of evidence.

Josh Heupel and the Vols used Vanderbilt’s stadium as practice turf this week in the lead-up to the Music City Bowl.

With Tennessee virtually playing a home game in Nashville to end the season against Purdue, it’s another reminder just how far Vanderbilt has to go before they can equal their in-state rival.

Nissan Stadium was packed with Tennessee orange on Thursday — once again not a surprise — while the Commodores struggle to fill Vanderbilt Stadium on a weekly basis each Saturday.

Tennessee football: Josh Heupel can defeat Vanderbilt on Thursday, too

Even when Tennessee football was ‘down’ following the unceremonious exit of Jeremy Pruitt, the Vols owned the Volunteer State for a reason. With Heupel’s quick turnaround in a loaded SEC, they should only build upon that momentum.

“He walked into such a challenging situation, and one of Josh’s strengths, having worked with him the last four years, is that he doesn’t get flustered,” said Tennessee athletic director Danny White, per ESPN.

Heupel’s steady demeanor led to opportunities in the transfer portal, as the Vols gave Hendon Hooker a chance at starting quarterback. Suddenly, they’re one of the only SEC programs with stability at that position heading into the 2022 campaign. Heck, Hooker has legitimate Heisman hype heading into next season.

The Vols are far from a powerhouse, but with Heupel instilling the values he learned at Central Florida — and having an athletic department and A.D. who believe in him — the Tennessee football program is heading in the right direction. That’s far more than Vanderbilt can say.

Tennessee has higher expectations than beating their in-state rival. They have the resources to match those championship expectations.

The next step is building upon an excellent season.

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