Tide Vs. Vols Is Quality Rivalry

Anytime the mention of attempting to make the Southeastern Conference better by having more intraleague games, two rivalry games are mentioned. One is Quantity. Georgia and Auburn have played 116 times. The other is Quality. Alabama and Tennessee have played "only" 95 times (10th most played rivalry in the league), but the Tide and Vols have combined for 23 national championships, 36 SEC titles.

Although expansion of the SEC was too much for the league braintrust to handle when making schedules to keep Alabama vs. Tennessee on the Third Saturday in October, the game remains the most important Southern football rivalry. The Crimson Tide, with 15 national championships and 23 SEC titles, has a 50-37-8 on-the-field record against Tennessee, which has eight national crowns and is second to Bama in conference championships with 13.

This year the Alabama-Tennessee game is on the fourth Saturday in October (someone in the SEC office is saying, "Hey, that's pretty close!") as the Crimson Tide hosts the Vols at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Bama is 7-0 overall and 4-0 in conference games and ranked first in the nation. Tennessee is 4-3 overall and 1-2 in league games and coming off a huge upset victory over South Carolina.

On Monday, Alabama Coach Nick Saban said, "This game with Tennessee is a very special rivalry for a lot of people, a lot of our folks at Alabama, especially for our team. It's been one of the best rivalries in college football for a long, long time."

Saban wasn't caught completely off guard by the rivalry. Before he came to Alabama, he said, "I knew it was a big game. If you're in college football, you kind of recognize what the big rivalry games are all over the country. But I think that until you really get to a place and feel it from the supporters and the fans and the players and everybody that's involved in the organization, you really get a true sense of what the game means to everyone."

More than the rivalry, though, Saban is concerned with the Vols "emerging as a very good football team in the last two weeks. They had an opportunity to beat Georgia and then beat South Carolina last week. I think (new Tennessee Coach) Butch Jones has done an outstanding job there. When a team improves like they've improved, it's always a sign of good coaching, good coaching staff, and a lot of people doing a very, very good job.

"They're able to run the ball very effectively on offense and the quarterback's played really well for them. Defensively, they've got eight starters back and have played really well so far this year. They've got all their specialists back; very good on special teams. This is a really solid team all the way around."

It seemed a good time to ask Saban about the proposition of expanding the SEC schedule to nine games. When the issue arose at the SEC Spring Meeting, conference coaches voted 13-1 against adding a league game.

Saban was the only coach in favor of the more demanding schedule.

"I think there are two things," he said Monday. "I think that it's important to the fans that we play the quality games. I think it's important that we keep the games that the fans are really interested in as natural rivalries. I also think it's very important for every player to play everybody in the league in his career, which if you only play two teams from the other side, that doesn't really happen. I know there're issues with it and I understand the opposition to it, but I think we all need to think of the fans first. You've got to have games that people are interested in coming to see. You want to fill the stadium, and I think that's where it all starts.

"I know that there're so many good SEC rivalries and so much respect that each program has for the other programs and teams in this league that there's always a lot of interest when we play SEC games."

It is understandable, perhaps, that sophomore safety Landon Collins didn't know much about the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry before coming to Alabama. After all, he's from Geismar, La. But he has a keepsake to remind him of the rivalry.

He said he learned about the rivalry in his freshman year. "I didn't know we smoked cigars until after the game," he said. Someone gave him a cigar after Bama's 44-13 win over the Vols in Knoxville last year. "I said, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?' They said, ‘You're supposed to smoke it.' I was like, ‘I'll just keep this as a souvenir as my first win.' That's what I did."

Did you know there are caves in Mobile? Well, not really. It just seemed as if quarterback A.J. McCarron must have been in one before coming to Tuscaloosa if he didn't know Alabama-Tennessee was a big rivalry. But McCarron had an explanation.

"I wasn't an Alabama fan," he said. "I was a Miami Hurricanes fan, so I knew about Florida State and Miami, and that was about it."

In any event, McCarron doesn't put much into a rivalry game. He thinks every week is a rivarly game.

"I don't think about them any more than I do anytbody else," he said. "Just another week, another game. That's the way we need to prepare for it. Every week is rivalry week to me because it's the next opponent on the list and they're trying to keep us from our goal, so it really doesn't matter to me."

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