KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee football is bowl-eligible following its routing of South Alabama. This is a large step for a program that was expected to finish fifth in the SEC East.

Now, the Volunteers are a win over Vanderbilt away from solidifying a third-place finish in the East — coach Josh Heupel has spoken all year about building something special in Knoxville, and it seems he’s on his way to doing just that. This first chapter is almost written, with the final regular-season game and a bowl game left, it’s been one full of promise and an exciting look at the future.

He said, “I think outside expectations, outside noise, is something that myself and our staff has tried to not pay attention to. I think the players have bought into that as well. From the moment I got here, I never placed a ceiling on what our football team could do. You’ve heard me say it, that we’re in a race against ourselves. I’m so proud of the growth from the first day that I got here to who we are now.”

Being a perfectionist, Heupel added that he certainly wished some things would have gone better this season as well.

Vols QB seeing continued growth, success

Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker has feasted on subpar defenses, and his performance against South Alabama is a prime example. He was an efficient 17-20 passing racking up 273 yards and scoring three total touchdowns. The senior transfer is working his way up the single-season record books.

Hooker has thrown a touchdown pass in 10 straight games, which is tied for the sixth-longest streak in Vols history. The signal caller’s development plays a huge part in Tennessee’s success.

“I think for Hendon, it starts with just who he is. Everybody sees his work ethic and his ability to relate, communicate, and lead the players around him. As he’s played more, he’s continued to grow in comfort and understanding,” Vols coach Josh Heupel said.

“The little things have added up to the big things that equal the success that everybody can see. You guys have seen us incrementally get better throughout the course of the season. He’s been a big part of that, but so have the other guys around him.”