Hendon Hooker’s season is finished, however the legacy he left at Tennessee is safe

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker was having fun with a Heisman-caliber season till the second his left knee buckled within the fourth quarter of Saturday’s loss to South Carolina, leading to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

As a 24-year-old senior, Hooker was producing first-round NFL Draft buzz as a result of, with him behind heart, the Vols offense was a record-breaking scoring machine, averaging greater than 46 factors and 540 yards of offense per sport.

In age and productiveness, maybe one of the best comparability for what Hooker achieved this season is what former Pittsburgh Panther quarterback Kenny Pickett achieved in 2021. Pickett turned a Heisman-finalist season right into a first-round choice within the 2022 draft (No. 20 total, Steelers). At age 24, he was the one quarterback chosen that top.

Associated: Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker out for season

Like Pickett — and like Tua Tagovailoa in 2020 (No. 5 total, Dolphins) — it is potential Hooker may nonetheless be drafted extremely after his season-ending harm. However he’ll doubtless be harm by lacking the chance to play within the Senior Bowl and work out for NFL groups that wish to see his means in environments managed by professional coaches.

That is what his expertise has meant to the game. However Hooker’s legacy at Tennessee means much more.

In his second season at Tennessee, he threw for 3,135 yards and 27 TDs with simply two INTs. He did so regardless of sitting out second halves and fourth quarters as a result of the offense had put up numbers that, at decrease ranges, would’ve led to requires a working clock.

Towards Missouri, Hooker led an offense that produced greater than 700 yards and 66 factors.

Tennessee has scored 34 or extra in each sport this season besides one, a 27-13 loss to the defending nationwide champion Georgia Bulldogs. The Vols have crushed 5 AP-ranked opponents alongside the best way.

However no win is extra significant to the Vols and their devoted than the 52-49 thriller they gained in opposition to Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. That victory broke a 16-year shedding streak to the Tide and vaulted them into their first No. 1-ranking within the Faculty Soccer Playoff period. It additionally vaulted Hooker to the entrance of the Heisman race.

There’s nonetheless an opportunity that Hooker will obtain sufficient Heisman votes to warrant his attendance on the ceremony in New York. However the Vols’ dream season seems to be destined to finish with no CFP invitation, because of their 63-38 loss to South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday evening.

Whereas Hooker handed for 247 yards with three TDs, the Vols trailed the Gamecocks by 18 when Hooker injured his knee. And that will probably be almost not possible for the CFP choice committee to miss.

There’s a path, although, nonetheless slim, thanks partially to the Vols’ 40-13 victory over SEC West champ LSU in Baton Rouge earlier this season.

If LSU — now ranked No. 6 within the AP ballot — loses to a nasty Texas A&M workforce, and if USC loses to Notre Dame, and if South Carolina pulls a second consecutive upset and topples Clemson, and if TCU loses to Iowa State or within the Large 12 Championship, and if the Large Ten East champ — Ohio State or Michigan — loses the Large Ten Championship, the Vols may discover themselves within the midst of an “eye test” argument for a last spot within the CFP. Once more — if is the operative phrase right here.

It behooves UT backup quarterback Joe Milton to play his finest soccer in Hooker’s stead in opposition to a Vanderbilt workforce that has knocked off back-to-back SEC opponents. The Vols want to depart a long-lasting impression of their last regular-season sport.

That Tennessee remains to be able to problem for a CFP spot — ifs and all — is a testomony to what the Vols have achieved this season, and none of that would’ve been carried out with out Hooker.

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RJ Younger is a nationwide school soccer author and analyst for FOX Sports activities and the host of the podcast “The Number One College Football Show.” Comply with him on Twitter at @RJ_Young and subscribe to “The RJ Young Show” on YouTube.

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