Joe Milton playing in the Citrus Bowl might not be as set in stone as one may think.
The Tennessee quarterback will be moving on to the NFL Draft following this season. And if you ask many Vols fans, they’ll tell you that’s good thing both for Milton and the Vols program.
Joe Milton Still Has A Decision To Make
Why would that be a good thing? Well, isn’t too difficult to figure out when you catch wind of the buzz surrounding the QB position in Knoxville. Sitting behind Joe Milton is former 5-star prospect Nico Iamaleava, who was rated as the No. 2 overall prospect in the Class of 2023, behind only Texas QB Arch Manning.
On Tuesday, Vols insider Austin Price, who covers Tennessee for On3Sports, mentioned that while many fans assume Milton will start the Citrus Bowl against Iowa as he did the Orange Bowl last season against Clemson, there’s “still a possibility” that he chooses to sit out and prepare for the NFL Draft.
“If Joe elects not to play, and this will be a Joe decision – I don’t think Josh Heupel is going to tell Joe he can’t play in the bowl game – if Joe elected to not play in the bowl game, I think that’s something they would probably keep quiet for at least a little bit longer,” Price said on Knoxville local 104.5 The Zone’s Ramon, Kayla, and Will.
“I don’t see them just unveiling it right now. Josh Heupel’s big on the gamesmanship. If that (Milton opting out) were to be the case, I think we would see it a little closer — I’m not saying he’s going to take it all the way to the day before the game — but I think he’s going to want Iowa to spend as much time preparing for one guy when it’s the other guy.”
“I think that’s (Milton opting out) still a possibility,” added Price. “I don’t think it’s crazy talk to think that you could see Joe elect to not play in the bowl game.”
Joe Milton was a lot better than Vols fans gave him credit for, but he simply doesn’t hold a candle to what Hendon Hooker was able to do after transferring from Virginia Tech. Milton finished the 2023 regular season having thrown for 2,813 yards, 20 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. More than anything, Milton’s indecision kept him from taking a step from good to great.
The Vols offense was electric last season but struggled in 2023 with a downgrade at QB, the loss of Biltenikoff WR Jalin Hyatt and star OT Darnell Wright, who was the No. 9 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Will Joe Milton’s incredible regular season sendoff against Vanderbilt be his final game as a Vol?
Could it be Nico Iamaleava Time in Knoxville?
Nico Iamaleava starting the bowl game against a good Iowa defense would be like a 2nd Christmas for Vols fans, who have patiently (and sometimes impatiently) waited for Iamaleava’s time under center. Nico, as they call him in Tennessee, made a few appearances and threw for 163 yards and 1 touchdown on 16-of-26 completions this season.
Here’s his first touchdown as a Vol:
🚨 NICO'S FIRST TOUCHDOWN 🚨 pic.twitter.com/gPFF9u7aGM
— gmannVOLS (@gmannVOLS) November 4, 2023
Iowa presents an interesting challenge for Tennessee. The Hawkeyes play in the Big Ten West, where offense seems to be optional and the best defense often wins the day. Iowa finished the season 10-3 and fell in the Big Ten Championship game to Michigan, which is set to face off against No. 4 Alabama in the Rose Bowl for a chance to reach the CFP title game.
Iamaleava making his first start as a Vol in lieu of Joe Milton against Iowa would be a tough ask for the freshman. Hawkeyes defensive coordinator Phil Parker won the 2023 Broyles Award this past season, which is given to the top assistant coach in college football annually.
Tennessee and Iowa will face off in the Citrus Bowl on January 1 at 1 p.m. ET from Orlando, Florida. The game will be aired on ABC.