The Alabama Crimson Tide once again sit atop the BCS Rankings as the best team in college football. As with any sport, professional or collegiate, division matchups often throw rankings out the window, as anything can happen.
In next week's SEC matchup in Tennessee, there are a few Volunteers players on offense that could make the game a lot closer than many will initially expect.
Tyler Bray, QB
In talking about Tennessee's upset potential, and the No. 1 player to look out for as an opposing team, you have to start with QB Tyler Bray. Alabama rarely gives up much of anything on the ground, so the emphasis for the Volunteers should rest even more so on their potentially high-powered passing attack. Bray has thrown for at least two touchdowns in each of his first six games, good for a total of 16 to this point, while amassing 1730 yards through the air.
Any success against the No. 1-ranked scoring defense of Alabama will have to start with Bray and continue throughout the game. If he can get time in the pocket, he has the ability to get the ball downfield to his talented receivers for some explosive plays. With that impressive talent, he has displayed a tendency to turn the ball over, and avoiding that in this game will be imperative.
Widely expected to be a first-round pick should he declare for April's NFL Draft, a positive performance against a defense of Alabama's caliber would do nothing but help his stock, not to mention give the Volunteers some much-needed momentum currently sitting at 3-3.
Justin Hunter, WR
That talented receiving core that Tyler Bray has to get the ball to is led by star WR Justin Hunter. Hunter too, is projected as a No. 1 pick in April's draft, possessing a rare combination of size and speed that the NFL covets.
So far in 2012, after missing 2011 with a torn ACL, he ranks fourth in the SEC in both catches and yards. He should continue to improve as the season goes on and he gets more games under his belt, but if he is to continue to establish himself as a top-tier prospect, like Bray, this is the game to do it.
The Alabama defense will likely key on him in coverage, but his talent is of the level that allows him the ability to single-handedly take over a game.
If the Volunteers are going to make a game out of this matchup, we can expect a monster game from Justin Hunter.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR
Cordarrelle Patterson is another highly ranked receiver for Tyler Bray and this offense, and his versatility and explosive playmaking ability will be key in keeping this Alabama defense honest. While his receiving potential has not necessarily yet been reached, there is much more to his game that will help the Volunteers.
So far in 2012, he is getting a few rushing attempts per game, that have gone for an average of 19.5 yards each, and two touchdowns. Plays like this can be significant against a defense like Alabama's, which is often going to shut down a standard running game.
In addition, much of Patterson's value, and in this game in particular, comes on special teams. He currently leads the SEC in average kick return yardage, including a 98-yard TD return in last week's game against Mississippi State.
It is his ability to make explosive plays from anywhere on the field, and in a variety of ways, that can always play to Tennessee's advantage.
If Tennessee is to come anywhere close to upsetting college football's best team, and getting its first SEC win of 2012, it will need dominant performances from these three players. The capability for which is there, but it will just be matter of executing against the toughest of opponents on the defensive side.