Importance of Bama/UT can't be overstated

Given the circumstances of the last three weeks, there is no doubt that Saturday's game with Tennessee is pivotal. For an Alabama team still learning how to win, a victory--any victory--right now is important. But defeating the Volunteers in Tuscaloosa at Bryant-Denny in front of the home crowd would be huge.

Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione put it this way; "I'm excited about playing in this game. It is one of the great rivalries in all of college football. It means a lot to the people of our state, our university and our fans. I'm looking forward to the pageantry and atmosphere in our stadium, two great teams and I think it will be as exciting a day and atmosphere as we could ask for in college football.

"So often as a college football coach, you can only savor it when the season is over--not when you are in the forest trying to find ways to be successful. But you always enjoy it if you win."

Led by quarterback Tyler Watts, it's an entirely new football team that will face Tennessee this Saturday.

For the last 56 years the Alabama-Tennessee series has been the most unexplainable and streaky series possibly in the history of college football. From 1955-60, Tennessee posted a 5-0-1 record. From 1961-66 Alabama followed with a 5-0-1 record of its own. Tennessee regained the momentum, winning four straight from 1967-70. After the 1970 season during the glory years of Bryant-coached football, Alabama totally dominated the series winning 11 consecutive games, the longest winning streak in the history of the colorful series. Tennessee ended years of frustration, starting a four-game streak of their own, in 1982. Bama regained the upper hand in 1986 with a resounding 56-28 win at Neyland Stadium, starting an 8-game unbeaten streak.

"It's going to be a huge game for us," Tide quarterback Tyler Watts said of playing the Volunteers. "We're going to need a great week of practice. We'll have to prepare. We're definitely going to have to study up on them and know what they're doing and find out how they're going to attack us. But more importantly we need to make sure to correct our mistakes. Make sure we're giving ourselves an opportunity to win."

The Volunteers current six-game series winning streak matches the longest winning streak by any opponent against Alabama in school history. From 1896-1914 Suwanee held a nine-game unbeaten streak against the Tide, posting an 8-0-1 record. Tennessee is the only team to defeat Alabama in six consecutive seasons, and no team has ever beaten the Crimson Tide seven consecutive years.

Franchione understands the implications of Tennessee week. "I don't think there is any doubt our fans want to beat Tennessee," he acknowledged. "That's one of their rivals. It is an important game to our people. Any time you play a nationally ranked team, a traditional rival, its a boost...IF you are able to win."

Streaks aside, there is no doubt that historically Alabama/Tennessee has been the most important showdown in SEC football. Together the Crimson Tide and Volunteers have combined to win 34 SEC championships. Alabama leads the way with 21 crowns, including 15 out-right titles. Tennessee is second with 13 league titles, including nine outright. Add Florida to the mix over the last decade, and the domination is even more apparent. Since 1990 those three schools have combined to win every SEC championship.

Watts commented; "It's a big game. It's a big game for them and a big game for us. We don't need to get out of the way we've approached every game. We don't need to do anything different just because it's Tennessee. We just need to go in there and watch film like we've always done and come up with a new game plan like we've always done and then go out there and execute."

Poor execution, of course, has contributed to each of Alabama's two recent losses. Against both South Carolina and Ole Miss, the Tide has held double-digit leads into the fourth quarter, only to let them slip away when the squad couldn't make a key first down. "We've been (talking about having a killer instinct) with the players for the last three or four weeks and we will continue to, I'm sure," Franchione said. "The biggest thing is to make sure we as coaches do a good job (focusing) our players on the next play more than the end result. Sometimes we've gotten locked into that."

Heading into last year's UT game Alabama's record was an identical 3-3. That 20-10 loss was the first of five in a row, dooming the Tide team and ultimately costing the coaching staff their jobs.

But beyond the record, Watts doesn't see any other similarities. "I don't really know about last year. We let the wheels run off. We have to keep our heads up and stay close together. We just have to keep things together, keep our spirits up and make sure that we're hanging in there together. We'll turn this thing around. We're close.

"We just have to get things turned around."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Barry Allen of Alabama's Media Relations Department contributed to this report.

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