The only sure thing among those five is that Croyle will be the starting quarterback for Alabama. Clausen and Ainge have both started and had success for the Volunteers. Wilson has been the back-up to Croyle, though little-used, and Guillon, who is recovering from a back injury suffered a year ago, has been the third team quarterback.
The question of greatest curiosity concerns Wilson. The freshman from Hoover will be tried November 3, according to the Tuscaloosa News. Asked about his status, Shula said, he would not comment on what punishment would be administered by Shula. "We're going to handle his discipline like we do everybody else's: internally. We're not going to release publicly what his discipline will be. It will be consistent with what we do."
Later Shula was asked if when he was a quarterback he considered himself to be held to a higher standard for leadership and as coach if he expected that of his quarterbacks. He said, "Yes."
If Wilson's punishment includes suspension, that would elevate Guillon to back-up. Guillon was Croyle's back-up last year and took over in the Arkansas and South Carolina games after Croyle was lost for the year. Bama lost both those games, and Guillon was injured and missed the remainder of the season. He has only a couple of snaps this year.
Shula said, "Marc's health is fine. He's spent most of this year helping take care of the head coach (Guillon signals the plays called by Shula to the quarterback). But he's prepared well. If his number is called, he'll be ready."
Asked if Guillon would get more practice repetitions this week, Shula didn't bite. "We'll have to see," he said.
Shula said it helps to have an experienced quarterback like Brodie Croyle to be consistent on offense. "You can't say enough about that," Shula said. "Teams with experienced quarterbacks, and for that matter players at other positions with experience, are fortunate."
Asked specifically about Croyle's improvement this year, Shula said, "I think he's playing better because he's out there more and we hope we keep him out there. He's gotten better each week. I think he's just more comfortable seeing the field, more comfortable in the pocket, moving around in the pocket. Knock on wood, his accuracy's been very good. Mechanically I think you probably can't say enough about what he does and how he gets his feet set and follows through on all those things. Those are things that he has worked on a lot in his career, and I think you see them paying off because those are things that come real natural to him. He's out there not having to worry about those things and just worry about reacting to what he sees. And I think he's got more confidence with our receivers because of their experience now."
There's an adage that if a team has two quarterbacks, it probably really doesn't have one. As expected, Shula does not see Tennessee's quarterback situation that way. He was asked how Alabama would prepare for both Clausen and Ainge.
Shula said in watching tapes, among the things the Bama staff would try to see are "how each guy reacts to pressure, if he's looking at certain receivers, if they do different things when one guy is in there compared to the other guy. You look at our tape from last year. We feel like they've got two quality quarterbacks. Obviously (Rick) Clausen's got more experience and they've won as of late with him in there and have been productive other than the last week that they played. We have to look at really, the games we've seen this season as well as last year when (Erik) Ainge played. They can do a lot of things because they've got a lot of talent on offense. They can run the football. They're big up front. They can spread you out and throw it. They've done a lot. They've used more personnel groupings this year probably than any other year."
Alabama is the most successful team in Southeastern Conference history and Tennessee is the second most successful, and for many, many years the meeting of the two SEC giants was the biggest game in the South and among the biggest in the nation. It is approaching that status this year with Alabama 6-0 and ranked fifth in the nation and Tennessee 3-2 with both losses to ranked teams and ranked 17th in the nation. The game will be nationally telecast by CBS with kickoff at 2:30 p.m. CDT.
In most years for the past decade or so, the SEC arranged schedules so that Tennessee gets an off week prior to its two biggest games, Florida and Alabama. The Vols lost to Florida after their first open date. Shula noted, "Any time a team is coming off a bye week, they have an opportunity to go back and correct some things."
Shula said he thinks he may be "more aware of the magnitude of the game as a coach than I was as a player."
Still, he knows his players are aware that this is a big game. "Our kids are looking forward and are excited about playing this game," the coach said. "They realize the tradition of this game, the magnitude of it. The younger guys who don't know quite a whole lot about it will find out in a hurry. The older guys have done a good job all year in regard to teaching these young guys a lot about what it's like being here and playing in games like that, and I would anticipate the same thing as far as the older guys getting the younger guys as well as themselves prepared for this weekend."
Shula said, "Obviously this is a huge week for us. Our football team knows we've got to play a lot better than we did last week. Specifically, we've got to tackle better defensively; we've got to hold on to the ball offensively. We've got to be better in the plus territory and eliminate some penalties where we didn't do some of those things last week. We know we're going to have to execute much better this week to give ourselves a chance going up a very talented football team, especially up front on both sides of the football. Their offensive and defensive lines are big. They're athletic. They've got a lot of speed. So I think by far this is the biggest challenge of the year."
Shula is more concerned about Alabama than he is about Tennessee. While the Tide has had an excellent year, Shula sees room for improvement.
"I think the biggest thing you look for as a coach is the consistency week in and week out," he said. "We're not there. I think that was evident last week. We felt like we played a pretty good ball game two weeks ago. But our execution has to be at a high level, especially this week. We've done some good things. We've had some young guys that we feel good about who have played pretty well and have gotten some experience, but, as you know, you've got to go week to week and you've got to prove yourselves week to week. Consistency, improving special teams with our return game, and eliminating the penalties."
He said, "The biggest thing is to win our seventh game and keep all those goals in front of us. Our focus has to be on ourselves."
Shula said the Tide would prepare "the same as always. The guys have done a good job of that. When they watch the tape, they know they are going to be going against good players."
For many years, Alabama hyped the Tennessee game in practices with the scout team in orange and the country song, "Rocky Top," that is the Vols' theme song blaring from speakers. Shula eliminated that. "We don't want to waste time and energy on things that might not be productive," he said.