Devil's Advocate

If you recall hearing the arguments that Tennessee is an excellent road team that likes being put in the role of the underdog, you're absolutely correct. I tried to make those cases before the Vols played Florida and again before they played Georgia.

I'm glad not to have to make that case again. It's based on two big recent road upsets the Vols scored in 2003 over Miami, and 2004 over Georgia. True those were big victories but they share nothing in common with Saturday's game against Alabama. The Hurricanes had scored a 26-3 victory over the Vols in Knoxville the year before they were upset in Miami. The Dawgs had scored a 41-14 victory over the Vols in Knoxville the year before they were upset in Athens. There's something about 23- and 27-point victories that dull the appetite.

Those victories, impressive though they were, may have had as much to do with the Canes' and Dawgs' apathy as they did any epiphany on the part of the Volunteers. That most decidedly won't be the case Saturday in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide hasn't beaten UT in the state of Alabama since 1991 and hasn't been ranked this high this late in the season since 1992 when they went undefeated and won the national title.

The last time these teams met in Tuscaloosa, it took UT five overtimes to come away with a narrow victory. The last time these teams met in Knoxville, the Vols barely managed to squeeze out a 17-13 win. The Crimson Tide won't take Tennessee lightly and there is simply no opponent on Alabama's schedule its coaches, players and fans would rather beat — including Auburn.

Many Vol fans may also look at Alabama's narrow victory over Ole Miss and figure the Crimson Tide doesn't have the horses to stampede the Big Orange. However, Bama also struggled to beat 1-3 Arkansas in Tuscaloosa a week before blowing undefeated Florida out of Bryant-Denny Stadium.

It's true the Vols may yet have some life in them. There is certainly a history of late-season recoveries in the tenures of Phillip Fulmer and Johnny Majors. However, Tennessee's hopes of winning the SEC East Division crown, SEC Championship game and the national title with a Rose Bowl victory are dead and buried.

Now we're supposed to believe the Vols have suddenly found religion and are ready to get back on the straight and narrow. During their last off week of the season they have supposedly rediscovered the drive, dedication and discipline needed to run the table, beginning with Alabama on Saturday.

If the Vols are able to win out and go 9-2 there's an outside chance they might get back in the top ten and earn a BCS bowl game for the first time since they went 9-2 in 1999 and got a bid to the Fiesta Bowl.

Keep that scenario to yourself because the Vols haven't won a significant contest with something on the line since they beat Florida in Gainesville in 2001. The next week they lost to LSU and settled for the Citrus Bowl instead ot the Rose Bowl and a shot at the national championship.

It seems when there's something on the line, UT just isn't up to the task.

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