Tennessee is 5-1 overall and 3-1 in Southeastern Conference play. Alabama is 2-2 in league play. The one common opponent is Ole Miss. Bama defeated the Rebels, 28-7, in the second game of the year, while UT was a 21-17 come-from-behind winner over Mississippi last week.
Kickoff Saturday will be at 2:30 p.m. CDT (3:30 eastern) with television coverage by CBS.
Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer may face some media questions this week about off-the-field friction between himself and The University of Alabama owing to his role as a secret witness against Bama in the NCAA case that resulted in crippling sanctions against the Vols' number one rival. But that is not the point this week. And what Fulmer won't have to answer for is his record as head coach at Tennessee, which is an impressive 118-29, including a 74-19 record in SEC games, in 13 years. Fulmer is not likely to be distracted.
Tennessee's squad sports an impressive number of all-star candidates, led by All-SEC linebacker Kevin Burnett (6-3, 235, Sr). Burnett and fellow All-SEC member Michael Munoz (6-6, 315, Sr) are the only Vols since 1925 to be elected as captains in two consecutive years. Widely considered the best punter in the SEC, Dustin Colquitt (6-2, 196) was a Ray Guy award finalist last season, and is having an outstanding senior campaign as well. The Vols will be without All-SEC linebacker Kevin Simon, who tore his ACL earlier this season.
Offensively, the story of the year for Tennessee has been the performances of their freshman quarterbacks, Erik Ainge (6-6, 200) and Brent Schaeffer (6-2, 195). Although Schaeffer gets playing time, Ainge has established himself as the number one man. With 1,052 yards and a 2-1 touchdown-interception ratio, Ainge has has performed above what would be expected of a true freshman. Schaeffer, a "slasher," has 234 yards, two touchdowns through the air, and one touchdown on the ground.
Senior tailback Cedric Houston (6-0, 220) began the year as the starter, but he has been overtaken by junior Gerald Riggs, Jr (6-0, 200). Riggs is the leading ground gainer for UT, outgaining Houston 521 to 397. Both backs have two touchdowns.
One reason UT's freshman signal callers have had success is because of the talented and seasoned receiving corps. The unit is led by senior Troy Brown (6-2, 200), who has 15 catches for 218 yards. Opposite Brown, the Vols start Chris Hannon (6-4, 195, Jr), a rangy speedster who led the Vols in touchdown receptions last year. They are backed up by Jayson Swain (6-1, 210, So), a Huntsville native who had 21 catches as a true freshman. Brown, Hannon, and Swain all have one touchdown catch. Bret Smith (6-3, 200, So) finished his freshman year with five catches. This year he has that many touchdown receptions. Averaging 20.4 yards a catch, half of Smith's 10 catches have hit paydirt.
With Munoz and fellow senior Jason Respert (6-3, 305) anchoring the line at left tackle and center, the Vols have a solid front in both run and pass blocking. They have led Tennessee to fouth in the SEC in rushing offense, only 16 yards behind Arkansas for third.
Kevin Burnett and Muscle Shoals native Jayson Allen (6-2, 200, Jr) have been a formidable duo for the Volunteers' defense. Allen leads the team with 53 tackles, and also has two sacks and one interception from his free safety position, and Burnett is just behind with 51 tackles, a sack, and a pick. Parys Haralson (6-2, 255, Jr) has had a dominating year at defensive end with 8.5 tackles for loss including three sacks. It remains to be seen if Brandon Johnson (6-1, 200, Jr) will be at strong safety after his weekend arrest and subsequent suspension. He leads the team in interceptions and forced fumbles with two each.
Alabama has been able to take advantage of special teams dominance the last couple of weeks to notch both points and favorable field position. However, that will be harder to do this week with the seasoned Colquitt punting the ball for the Vols. Placekicker James Wilhoit (5-10, 180, So) was a freshman All-America last season, but has had a bit of a sophomore slump. Wilhoit is only 4-9 on field goal attempts, including 1-5 from between 40 and 49 yards. He does have a very strong leg, however, as evidenced by his pair of 51-yard field goals in the Vols win over Georgia.