Bama week special for Fulmer

Tennessee's rivalry with Alabama has special meaning for the Vols' head football coach.

As a high school senior Phillip Fulmer was offered a scholarship by legendary Tide coach Bear Bryant. He declined, choosing his home-state Vols.

As a third-year head man at Tennessee in 1995, Fulmer trounced the Tide 41-14 at Birmingham, ending nine years of futility during which the Vols went 0-8-1 against Bama.

A few years ago Fulmer testified against the Tide regarding its recruiting practices, bringing NCAA sanctions for Bama and elevating the Vol coach to Public Enemy No. 1 among Alabama fans.

Given all of this, Fulmer is understandably pumped about visiting Tuscaloosa for this Saturday's 11:30 (CST) kickoff.

"I'm excited about getting ready for Alabama," he said. "To me, this is one of the best games in all of college football every year."

Fulmer has had tremendous success against the Tide over the years. He went 2-1-1 against Gene Stallings (1990-96), 4-0 vs. Mike Dubose (1997-2000), 1-1 vs. Dennis Franchione (2001-02) and 3-1 against Mike Shula (2003-2006). The tie with Stallings was later ruled a UT win because the Tide used an ineligible player, so Fulmer's official career record against Bama is 11-3.

Last winter the Tide went to great lengths – and even greater expense – to try and stabilize its coaching situation. Bama gave Nick Saban an eight-year, $32-million contract to take over the program. Saban, who went 2-1 against Fulmer while at LSU from 2000-2004, has the Tide motoring along at 5-2 this year, including a 3-1 SEC mark.

"I think Nick's a great coach, a great hire for Alabama," Fulmer said. "He'll just add to the rivalry. It's been intense always – ever since I can remember – and certainly he's an intense football coach."

Tennessee posted its first road win of 2007 last Saturday, tripping Mississippi State 33-21 in Starkville. That should help the Vols this weekend in SEC road test No. 2 ... but not THAT much.

"I don't think it (Starkville) was anything like it will be in Tuscaloosa," Fulmer said. "It's a different world this week."

After playing Bama at Birmingham's Legion Field in 1993, 1995 and 1997, Fulmer has faced the Tide in 1999, 2001, 2003 and 2005 at Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium, site of this weekend's meeting. Because the latter is an on-campus facility that attracts more students, Fulmer said Bryant-Denny is " a lot better, as far as a college atmosphere."

Due to Kentucky's upset of No. 1 LSU last weekend, CBS elected to televise the Big Blue's game with Florida this weekend. That means the UT-Alabama game will be televised by Lincoln Financial on a regional basis. It marks the first time since 1988 (when UT was 0-5) that the Vol-Tide game will NOT be televised nationally.

"It's not anything we have any control over," Fulmer said. "It's kind of different. You've got two teams ranked higher than us (Kentucky and Florida). We don't make that decision."

Despite a 59-20 loss at Florida in Week 3, Tennessee can claim the SEC East championship by winning its remaining league games. Having control of their own destiny is exciting for the Vols but Fulmer wants his troops taking 'em one game at a time.

"You don't want to get ahead of yourself," he said. "We played hard on both sides and played well on both sides (vs. Mississippi State) but we still can improve to be the kind of team that can win the division. We're still a work in progress. The games will continue to get bigger and harder."

The challenge won't get much bigger and harder than beating Saint Nick and the Crimson Tide before what is sure to be a rabid crowd this weekend in Tuscaloosa.

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