Arch Manning and Josh Heupel: Why Oklahoma-Texas joining SEC in 2025 matters to Tennessee

It appears Texas and Oklahoma won’t join the SEC until 2025, which is sort of a bummer for Tennessee football.

It could mean that Arch Manning never plays in Neyland Stadium. Josh Heupel’s Oklahoma homecoming is also on hold. But Tennessee fans can enjoy the Florida rivalry a little longer before the schedule changes.

And it has other ramifications for the Vols, both good and bad.

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There seemed to be momentum for Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 for the SEC in 2024. But reports that now appears unlikely.

Here’s how the delay could impact Tennessee football:

Arch Manning may never play in Neyland Stadium

The quarterback matchup of Tennessee’s Nico Iamaleava vs. Texas’ Arch Manning was almost too perfect. They’re the five-star gems of the 2023 signing class. And Manning’s family ties to Tennessee would add a unique element to that game.

Now the matchup may never happen.

The earliest Texas-Tennessee game would be 2025, the quarterbacks’ third season in college. With an SEC schedule where opponents alternate years, they may not play until 2026. By then, both quarterbacks could be in the NFL, if they pan out as star players.

That timeline makes it even less likely that Arch Manning ever plays in Neyland Stadium. And that would be a shame. The idea of Peyton Manning rooting against his own nephew is too intriguing to miss.

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Florida rivalry will last a little longer

The SEC is leaning toward a nine-game conference schedule once Oklahoma and Texas join the conference. It would include three permanent opponents and six rotating opponents in a 16-member league with no divisions.

Most projections list Florida as a rotating opponent for Tennessee. Vanderbilt, Alabama and one other school (perhaps Kentucky) likely would be the Vols’ permanent opponents. If so, Florida would only play Tennessee in alternating years and probably soften the rivalry.

Now that Texas and Oklahoma appear to be joining the SEC in 2025, the Vols and Gators can clash for at least two more consecutive seasons, including a 2024 game in Neyland Stadium. That home game is only assured with the Texas-Oklahoma delay.

Put that Josh Heupel homecoming on hold

Heupel, the Tennessee coach, led Oklahoma to the 2000 national championship as a Heisman Trophy runner-up quarterback. Then he served as a successful quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at his alma mater.

But after the 2014 season, Bob Stoops fired Heupel, who then started a path that led to Tennessee.

The Vols have surged under Heupel. The Sooners struggled in 2022 under first-year coach Brent Venables.

If those trajectories continue, the Tennessee-Oklahoma game could be a “how do you like me now” homecoming for Heupel. But now it’ll come at least one year later, and who knows where these programs will be then?

Notably, Oklahoma was scheduled to play a nonconference game at Tennessee in 2024. But the SEC directed Tennessee to cancel the game in anticipation of Oklahoma joining the league.

The ‘real UT’ debate won’t be settled for a while

It’s the rivalry that’s begging to begin: UT Vols (that is, University of Tennessee in Knoxville) vs. UT Longhorns (University of Texas in Austin).

Which is the real UT?

For the Longhorns’ side, that starts with the usual Lone Star State pride that produces slogans like “Everything is bigger in Texas.”

For Tennessee, the argument takes a historical turn.

Davy Crockett, the icon of the Alamo, was a Tennessean. So was President James K. Polk, who oversaw the annexation of Texas as a state. And Tennessee Volunteers fought for Texas in the Mexican War.

This needs to be settled on the football field. Unfortunately, that won’t occur until 2025, at the earliest.

SEC title game berth still goes through Georgia

The SEC will drop divisions when Texas and Oklahoma expand the league to 16 members. Until then, Tennessee can’t get to the SEC Championship game without winning the East Division, likely controlled by Georgia for the foreseeable future.

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart celebrates a win over TCU during the second half of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. Georgia won 65-7. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart celebrates a win over TCU during the second half of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. Georgia won 65-7. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Once the divisions are dropped, the best two teams will play in the title game.

Think that doesn’t matter? If there were no divisions last season, Tennessee would’ve played Georgia in the SEC title game. The Vols had the same conference record (6-2) as Alabama and LSU, and they held the head-to-head tiebreaker over both.

The 2023 season could’ve been the last season that Tennessee had to go through Georgia to reach the SEC title game. But now that roadblock will extend through 2024.

Reach Adam Sparks at and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Texas, Oklahoma to SEC delayed? Why it matters to Tennessee football