It has been a disappointing season for Alabama, but that takes nothing away from one of the great rivalries in college football. This week the Crimson Tide hosts nationally-ranked Tennessee, which comes to Bama having had a week's rest after back-to-back Southeastern Conference losses. The Volunteers are 4-2 after having opened with four straight wins before losing to Auburn and Georgia. The Vols are 2-2 in SEC play with wins over South Carolina and Florida. Alabama defeated Tennessee in Knoxville last season by a 34-14 score, pushing Bama¹s all-time series advantage to 43-35-7 in Alabama's favor.
Famous for its winning streaks, the Alabama/Tennessee series is at a crossroads. Alabama is hoping its 2002 win in Knoxville is no one-year wonder and hopes to add to that streak this weekend in Tuscaloosa. The Tide is looking for back-to-back wins over Tennessee for the first time since 1991-92. Tennessee, however, is looking to do something that has not happened in the series since the late 1940s. A Tennessee win over Alabama would mark the first time since 1946-48 that the series has seen three different winners in three consecutive years.
The Volunteers are coached by Phillip Fulmer, who has a record of 107-26, over an 80 percent winning mark. The former Tennessee player was a Vols assistant coach before becoming head coach. His trophy case includes two SEC championships and one national title. He coached Tennessee to seven straight wins over Bama before the Tide ended the streak last season. The last time Alabama won a national championship, in 1992, one member of the Tide's staff was Woody McCorvey. McCorvey now tutors the Volunteers running backs, a position he has held since 1999.
As always, Tennessee has its share of all-star candidates. Davey O'Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award candidate Casey Clausen (6-4, 225) returns for his senior season as Vols' quarterback. Clausen has 59 career touchdown passes, but had only 165 yards and two interceptions in his last outing against Georgia. Clausen became just the 11th quarterback in SEC history to pass for 8,000 yards in a career. He needs just 399 more yards to finish in the conference all-time top 10. He has accounted for 63 total touchdowns in his career, which is tied for 13th in the SEC.
On special teams, Dustin Colquitt was a finalist for last season's Ray Guy award for the nation's top punter, and he is up for the same honor this season. Colquitt is leading the SEC with a 46.1 per punt average (fifth in the nation). As a team Tennessee leads the conference in net punting and is sixth nationally. Colquitt has placed 11-of-30 punts inside the 20 yardline, seven inside the 10 and four inside the five. He has 12 punts of 50 yards or more and four 60-yard efforts.
On the defensive side, the Vols have all-star candidates in 5-11, 185-pound senior safety Rashaad Baker (Jim Thorpe Award) and 6-3, 235-pound junior linebacker Kevin Burnett (Lombardi Award). Baker and Burnett have 74 tackles between them.
The Tennessee offense has been hot and cold this year, but can be counted on to put up big numbers if the talented receivers are not properly contained. Clausen is deadly if allowed to sit in the pocket and pick his targets, which he has many of this year. James Banks (6-3, 200, So.) continues the Tennessee tradition (see Kelley Washington) of transforming from a backup quarterback to a star receiver, and he leads the team with 23 catches and four touchdowns. A two-way player, Mark Jones is Clausen's big-play threat. His 16.5 yards per catch average leads the club.
Fullback Troy Fleming (6-2, 226, Sr.) isn't just a blocker; he's also the team's fourth leading receiver, just ahead of true freshman and Alabama native 6-2, 205, Jayson Swain. Alabama worked hard to sign Swain last recruiting season, but he was scared off by the Tide's NCAA probation.
Cedric Houston (6-0, 215, Jr.) carries most of the load for the Vols at tailback, although he is often relieved by Jabari Davis (6-0, 225, Jr.) in short yardage situations. Houston has 508 yards but only one score on the season; Davis, on the other hand, had rushed for 255 yards but has found the end zone 5 times. Houston is fourth in the SEC in rushing.
Tennessee's offensive line may not be as dominating as in year's past, but it's still a solid unit. The Volunteers start three seniors, one junior and a sophomore. Center Scott Wells (6-2, 300), who has started 42 straight games, got some early play for pre-season All-SEC. Junior offensive tackle Michael Munoz (6-6, 305) is a good lineman who has probably received some all-star mention because he is the son of former NFL star Anthony Munoz. A true freshman, backup left tackle Aaron Sears (6-4, 300) could be the most talented lineman on the team. A native of Alabama, Sears was another athlete Bama badly wanted to sign who left the state thanks to the NCAA.
Usually one of the strongest in the conference, the Tennessee defense shouldn't be judged by the 41-14 trouncing at the hands of Georgia. That game marked the first start for a freshman cornerback the Crimson Tide recruited up to the day that he signed with Tennessee. Jason Allen of Muscle Shoals, another Bama native that left the state mainly due to the NCAA, leads the Vols with two interceptions. Strongside linebacker Kevin Simon (5-11, 225, So.) leads the team in tackles with 51, and is followed by middle linebacker Robert Peace (6-3, 235, Sr.), 43 stops. Simon leads the team with 3.5 sacks.
The only Vols defensive lineman to start every game this season is native German Constantin Ritzmann (6-4, 265), a senior with three sacks on the year. Tide fans will remember that Ritzmann came close to signing with Alabama before choosing the Vols. Senior Mondre Dickerson (6-5, 290) is Tennessee's top inside lineman, but overall UT's D-Line talent isn't on a par with recent seasons.
Baker, who is nursing a quad injury, is the star of the Vols secondary, and Allen has talent that can mask his inexperience. Opposite Allen, another first-year starter, Antwan Stewart(6-0, 180), sits on the orange island.
Rightfully, most attention is on Dustin Colquitt when discussing the Tennessee kicking game. But on the other end, Baker will drop back from his safety position to return opposing punts. Baker is averaging 11.1 yards per return. Alabama native Corey Larkins (5-8, 205) is a speedy kickoff returner. He should finish his career in the Top 5 for all-time Vols kickoff men. Freshman James Wilhoit handles the placekicking duties for the Vols. He has connected on all 17 extra points he has attempted, but is hitting only .500 on field goals.