Nico Iamaleava will be a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2024

Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava (8) warming up for the Citrus Bowl NCAA College football game
Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava (8) warming up for the Citrus Bowl NCAA College football game / Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY

The last couple of years have been kind to Tennessee football with solid quarterback play under Josh Heupel with Malik Hooker and then Joe Milton. Now, the Volunteers may be fielding their best quarterback of the Heupel era in 2024: Nico Iamaleava.

The former five-star prospect from California had a quiet freshman season backing up Milton in 2023, passing for 314 yards and two touchdowns with a 62 percent completion rate.

Iamaleava got his first start in the Citrus Bowl against one of the top defenses in college football and still played well, throwing for 151 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-19 completions. He also added three rushing touchdowns in an impressive 35-0 win.

While the season didn't go quite as planned for the Volunteers, they still finished 9-4 and that was with arguably their most talented quarterback sitting on the bench as a freshman.

Now that Milton is gone, it's Iamaleava's turn to take over full time.

And he's going to excel.

The former five-star showed promise in limited action as a true freshman, throwing for 66 yards against Vanderbilt and 86 yards against Connecticut, but now that he's the full-time starter, he's going to be let loose by Heupel. And his arm talent exceeds that of Milton (even though he could throw it a country mile) and Hooker.

Iamaleava is actually flying under the radar heading into the 2024 season. All the talk is about Jalen Milroe, Carson Beck, and Quinn Ewers in the SEC, but we can't be sleeping on the talented soon-to-be second-year quarterback who stands 6-foot-6 and has a rocket for an arm and the ability to run.

This might be my boldest take of the offseason, but I believe that Iamaleava will be in New York at the end of the year for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

Will he win it? That's another story, but he will be a finalist.