Overlooked Tennessee Volunteers Could Roll Tide In Alabama Saturday

tre wellsCorrespondent IOctober 23, 2009

18 Oct 1997: Wide receiver Marcus Nash of the Tennessee Volunteers moves the ball during a game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. Tennessee won the game, 42-6.

For the second time in as many years, the Alabama Crimson Tide has reached the pinnacle of the AP poll.


They are undefeated, healthy, and appear to be headed to the SEC Championship game again.


Or so that’s the plan.


Listening to Alabama’s sports talk the past few days, I find the consensus of fans to be focused on finishing the season undefeated, getting to Atlanta, exacting revenge on the likely opponent in Florida, and finding themselves in Pasadena competing for the BCS Championship.


Sounds like a solid plan, except for one thing;there is a big orange rivalry roadblock standing in the way.


Tennessee may not be Alabama’s biggest rival anymore, as they have not been as competitive recently, but the most dangerous thing about this game may not be what is coming from Knoxville;it may be what is brewing in Alabama.


Nick Saban has brought many things to Alabama since his arrival. Among them is top notch talent, discipline, a great staff, and a plan. What followed him to Alabama though was a lot of expectations.


That’s not a bad thing for fans to have, but expectations can seep into a players psyche and distort the focus on the task at hand. The task at hand this week happens to be one of the longest running rivalries in college football.


As we get closer to November and December, it’s natural for the Tide’s players to think about a possible rematch with Florida. They were leading the SEC Championship game against the Gators in the fourth quarter last year before Tim Tebow willed another victory and hung another skin above the fireplace.


The Crimson Tide is bigger, stronger and faster than they were a year ago, and their experience in last year’s matchup has only hardened their desire for revenge. But before they play in the SEC championship, before they can avenge their loss, before they can book their flight to Pasadena, they still have a game to play this weekend.


Yes, Tennessee is a modest 3-3.


The Volunteers have lost to UCLA, struggled against Ohio, looked lost against Auburn, and failed to sing Rocky Top all night long after their date with Florida.


But if there is anything that makes this Tennessee team dangerous, it’s the unknown that Lane Kiffin and his ability to massage the psyche of the team brings. Kiffin seems to thrive on getting his players to do what they have been told they cannot do.


They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned; I’ve learned that even a scorned woman pales in comparison to an ignored woman.


Nobody likes to be ignored. No one likes to feel that they aren’t important.


For every bit of talk this week about Alabama getting back to the SEC Championship game, for every comment about avenging their loss to Florida, for every snicker that Tennessee may not be Alabama’s biggest rival, Kiffin adds another log to the fire.


That fire is building in a Tennessee team that has already faced a #1 ranked team on the road this year. They have been 30 point underdogs before, so being a 15 point underdog to the Tide is nothing new.


Tennessee may not have the horses to hang with Alabama all day long, which is why Kiffin may look to try and shorten the game. Monte Kiffin, the defensive coordinator, has had two weeks to prepare and that’s a plus for the Volunteers.


Sometimes going on the road can galvanize a team.


Kiffin will certainly play the us vs. the world card and it won’t be hard to with the Tide ranked No. 1.


It also helps that the Crimson Tide knows it has bigger fish to fry.


Alabama may take it to the next level. They may take the SEC, and they may take home the BCS Championship.


But if they take their eye off Tennessee, the Vols may take the game, and for all those fans pricing plane tickets to Pasadena,that may be hard to take.