Hugh Freeze's return to big-time college football seems like a "when" more than an "if" at this point. Fans of one big SEC program, Tennessee football, were clamoring for the former Ole Miss coach after watching him lead Liberty to a wild Cure Bowl win last night.
Freeze's Flames had a remarkable season, losing just one game, on a blocked field goal by NC State. They exercised those demons on Saturday night against undefeated Coastal Carolina, though it came in about the most dramatic way possible. The Cure Bowl was a thriller throughout, and had one of the craziest finishes of the year.
With the game tied at 34, Liberty quarterback Malik Willis engineered an impressive drive to get down inside the Coastal five-yard line with about a minute left. Freeze wanted to kill clock to set up a game-winning field goal with as little time left as possible. Rather than have Willis take a few knees, he handed the ball off to his running back, who tried to avoid scoring while staying upright as long as possible. That turned into a nearly catastrophic decision, when he was stripped at the one-yard line, and the fumble was recovered by Coastal.
Freeze was avenged in overtime, though. Coastal Carolina's impressive defense held Liberty to a field goal to start the extra period, but Liberty forced Coastal to attempt one on the ensuing possession, and blocked the kick to lock up the win. It was one of the most fun games of the season, and Vols fans found themselves hoping that Freeze might be an option to replace Jeremy Pruitt. Tennessee is just 3-7 on the season.
Freeze has one major feather in his cap that understandably has Tennessee fans excited about the possibility: there may be no coach with more success against Nick Saban and Alabama. He beat the Crimson Tide in back-to-back years at the height of his run at Ole Miss.
Freeze was mentioned for the openings at South Carolina and Auburn, but it doesn't sound like either program really went down a road with him.
Pruitt is still in the Tennessee football job, but his seat is getting very hot. Many Vols fans don't want to give him another shot in 2021, after how things fell apart this year. After opening the year with wins against South Carolina and Mizzou, Tennessee would only win one of the final eight games: vs. lowly Vanderbilt. The team was supposed to play in the Liberty Bowl against West Virginia, but backed out of the spot due to COVID-19 concerns.