All Joe has to do is live up to expectations

Marvin Westwestwords

OK Joe, it’s your go again. All you have to do to become rich and famous is live up to expectations.

Before we order the plaque and schedule enshrinement, there is one question: Can you cut it when the heat is on?

The answer means everything.

There is no way to know how Joseph Milton III will respond in The Swamp or how he will play when the chips are down in the fourth quarter at Alabama, Tide rushers coming for his helmet and the multitude screaming for his demise.

Joe Milton is off to one heck of a start toward his sixth season of college football. Never has there been so much hype and optimism so far ahead of accomplishments.

Potential is obvious. He seems to now fit the Josh Heupel system. He’ll need to make sound decisions. He must run stronger than he ever has. He must hit slant patterns, quick outs in the flat and fastballs over the middle. Bombs away is a built-in strength.

Joe never gave Nico a chance to be Tennessee’s quarterback for 2023. Milton was a very good No. 2 to Hendon Hooker. He was a roommate who supported and encouraged, studied defenses with the star and offered an occasional suggestion that paid dividends.

When Hooker suffered the knee injury, Milton filled in skillfully. He was a calm manager in the rainy 56-0 romp at Vanderbilt and most valuable Vol in the bowl victory over Clemson. After that adventure, he tossed oranges to happy fans without a single miss.

From almost all appearances, Joe is smart, maybe very smart. His one significant mistake was two years ago against Ole Miss, stepping out of bounds to stop the clock and save time when there was no time to save.

Everybody, including Joe, knows he should have thrown a Hail Mary to the end zone to give the Vols a chance. I got over that. Some haven’t. Remember, that was then. This is now.

Heupel gives Milton high grades.

“He’s had a great off-season. Everybody in our program believed he would play in a great way when he got his next opportunity. He has continued to have great urgency in his preparation and has continued to grow as a leader. He was a leader last year, too.

“I’m really excited about what he’s done. He had a great spring. He has continued to refine himself as a quarterback with his fundamentals. Really impressed with what he has done as far.”

Pro Football Focus says Milton is the seventh best quarterback prospect for the next draft. That’s a low-ball guess. Aaron Murray, former Georgia quarterback and a current college football analyst (maybe still employed by ESPN) says “Joe is the guy. He is the most talented college quarterback in America.”

Key word is “talented.”

“He is the most gifted quarterback. He has the best arm. He is extremely athletic. I mean, the dude can dunk a basketball like its nothing … he’s a great athlete (he can do a standing back-flip).

“And he’s a gigantic human being (6-5, 235 or 240) and can throw the ball 80-plus yards.”

Peyton Manning is impressed with Joe’s arm strength, maybe the best in the country. Joe teased Peyton by asking what he meant by maybe.

Peyton really enjoyed Joe as the star counselor at the Manning summer school for young prospects.

Alex Scarborough has submitted Milton’s name for Heisman Trophy consideration. Seriously. No kidding.

Scarborough is no loose cannon. He is an Auburn man who once worked for The Tuscaloosa News (that’s a neat trick) and now actually thinks and then speaks on TV.

“While it’s too soon to say that Milton will have the same poise and accuracy as Hooker, one thing he really has going for him is arm strength. And in that offense, which spreads the field, pushes the tempo and puts the ball in the air, he could amass many highlight reel throws.

“He’s off to a good start, too. The most recent thing was three touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Orange Bowl win over Clemson.”

Don’t skip lightly over no interceptions. That is a very good stat. Don’t dismiss arm strength as if it doesn’t matter. It forces defensive backs to take depth.

The combination of skills is very promising: improved touch, 40-yard strikes that look like mere flicks of the wrist, long ball in the bank.

To be determined: How well Milton meshes with receivers remains to be seen. Top targets figure to be Bru McCoy, Dont’e Thornton, Squirrel White, Ramel Keyton and running backs with hands are returnees.

Thornton, 6-5 transfer from Oregon, leads the new guys who may be very good. There are freshmen and redshirts with potential but no experience.

Joe says he is confident in the chemistry he has built with receivers.

“I know how the offense works. It’s pretty good. Those guys are working and they want to get better. They understand me, they understand what the offense needs and they understand how to beat opponents. They get open.”

To be determined, part 2: Response to intense pressure, poise in crisis. No way to know until he’s been there, endured, prevailed.

To be determined, part 3: Hooker ran 104 times for 430 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games last season. How effectively will Joe be on designated runs? Even Heupel doesn’t know.

“Another step of his growth, to where we’ve got to be when we kick off, has to be him understanding the pocket, what’s happening with coverage down the field, being able to step up, escape and create plays with his feet.”

I think Joe will do it. We’ll see.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is


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