New AD Danny White hires Josh Heupel to join him at Vols

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Josh Heupel was hired as Tennessee’s football coach, giving the Vols a package deal with athletic director Danny White, who started in his job last week.

White announced that Heupel will become Tennessee’s 27th head coach. He’s now the Vols’ fifth coach, not counting interim or acting coaches, since the end of the 2008 season.

White said the school looked at a number of candidates before coming to Heupel, someone he has worked with the past three years at UCF. White said Heupel wins with integrity, has a history of winning titles and is an architect of explosive offenses.

“He is a players’ coach and the kind of person the student-athletes go the extra mile for,” White said in a statement. “I saw that firsthand, and you can see it in his coaching record.”

Heupel will be introduced at a news conference later Wednesday.

“I am thrilled to be coming to Tennessee,” Heupel said. “I understand that Volunteer fans are hungry for a return to the top that they so richly deserve, and it is my goal and commitment to bring a championship back to Rocky Top.”

He was 28-8 in three seasons at UCF, where White hired him to replace Scott Frost after the Knights went 13-0 in 2017. White signed Heupel to a one-year extension in December 2018 that kept him under contract through the 2023 season.

Heupel followed Frost by leading UCF to 12 straight wins before a loss to LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. That made him the third coach in history to lead a team to an undefeated regular season in his debut, joining Chris Petersen at Boise State in 2003 and Larry Coker at Miami in 2001.

UCF went 10-3 in 2019 and 6-4 this season.

The Volunteers have been cycling through athletic directors, too, with White the program’s fourth AD since Dave Hart took over in September 2011. White was hired on Jan. 21 and his first job was to find a new coach. Jeremy Pruitt, two assistants and seven others were fired on Jan. 18.

The firings followed an internal investigation with outside attorneys into recruiting issues that Chancellor Donde Plowman called “stunning.” The NCAA opened a case in December and has had investigators involved the past couple weeks.

Kevin Steele, who was hired as an assistant coach on Jan. 12, was named acting head coach. That didn’t stop at least five Vols from entering the transfer portal after Pruitt’s firing, four of them starters. The next signing period opens Feb. 3, and the Vols’ current class is rated 15th nationally by 247Sports.

Tennessee has had five winning seasons since last winning the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division in 2007. That was also the last time the Vols double-digit wins. Their last SEC title was in 1998 when Tennessee won its last national championship.

Heupel takes over a program that went 3-7 in 2020 and is expected to deal with NCAA sanctions – a challenge that previous coaches Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, Butch Jones and Pruitt did not face.

He brings a history of coaching potent offenses.

UCF ranked sixth nationally in 2018 averaging 43.2 points a game and fifth with 522.7 total yards of offense a game. The Knights ranked fifth in 2019, scoring 43.4 points, fourth in yards at 536.6.

Heupel was Missouri’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2016 and 2017. Drew Lock, now in the NFL with Denver, led the SEC in passing yards with 3,399 in 2016 and had an SEC-record 44 TD passes in 2017. Heupel was assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Utah State in 2015.

He started his coaching career at his alma mater Oklahoma in 2003 and 2004 before spending 2005 at Arizona. He returned to Oklahoma in 2006 and coached quarterbacks for five seasons, including Sam Bradford‘s Heisman Trophy-winning 2008 campaign, and was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2011.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.