SEC Unfiltered: Of SEC coaches, Josh Heupel did the most with the least this season

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  • Josh Heupel
    Josh Heupel
    American football coach
  • Jeremy Pruitt
    American football coach
Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.
Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel during an SEC football game between Tennessee and Kentucky at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.

Welcome to SEC Unfiltered, the USA TODAY NETWORK's daily newsletter on SEC football. Today, Tennessean columnist Gentry Estes takes over:

With a 6-5 record, Tennessee's Josh Heupel isn't going to win SEC Coach of the Year in his first season.

Too many other worthy candidates.

Kirby Smart has the nation's top-ranked team at Georgia. Lane Kiffin took Ole Miss to the Top 10. Sam Pittman continues to work wonders at Arkansas, as does Mark Stoops at Kentucky. You could even make a convincing case lately that Shane Beamer is overperforming at South Carolina.

However, if the question is which of these coaches has done the most with the least this season, I'd argue that it's Heupel.

The Vols were terrible last season. Then with Jeremy Pruitt's messy end in Knoxville, they got a lot worse. They lost many of their best players to the transfer portal. Heupel had nothing but a Big Orange mess to clean up with he arrived.

And his 2021 season could have been ugly. Real ugly.

Instead, the Vols have the No. 15 offense in FBS, averaging 460.4 yards per game. The defensive numbers aren't great, but that had something to do with the fact Tennessee ranks dead last (No. 130) in the FBS in time of possession. A fast-break offense and a depth-depleted defense wouldn't seem a good mixture to keep from being embarrassed at times in the SEC.

Yet Tennessee hasn't been embarrassed with Heupel. The Vols held up fairly well against opponents like Alabama and Georgia.

And to date, with Vanderbilt left to play, Tennessee has easily handled the opponents it was expected to handle. The Vols dropped 62 points on Missouri and South Alabama. They scored 45 on South Carolina and then Kentucky -- which was a ranked team when Tennessee won in Lexington.

Obviously, it's still too early to get too excited in a new coach's tenure. Tennessee fans, if anyone, must understand that by now.

Pretty soon, Vol Nation won't be satisfied with five-loss seasons as they have been this one. Challenges will grow as the Heupel era continues in Knoxville. Recruiting will be a huge part of improvement that still needs to happen.

But they should be satisfied by Year 1 with Heupel. It's hard to imagine it going much better than it has to this point.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Of SEC coaches, Josh Heupel did the most with the least

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