Well, here we go again.
The Third Saturday in October is upon us once more and the prospects for a Tennessee Vols win are, unfortunately, bleak. Alabama is a 25-point favorite and the game is in Tuscaloosa. We obviously all want to see a win for the Big Orange but if we’re being totally realistic, that’s not likely.
But it wasn’t always like this.
I’m currently 30 years old. In my lifetime, Alabama only leads the series against UT 19-10-1. It’s a tad lopsided but without knowing the full context, that appears to be a relatively competitive matchup. But we all know the truth.
Under Nick Saban, the Tide has won 14 straight and have built a college football dynasty unlike anything else we’ve seen in the modern era. So, during my adult years, Bama-Tennessee hasn’t been much a rivalry. But it wasn’t much of one during my childhood either, just in the opposite direction. From 1991 through 2006, the Vols won 10 of 16 and typically smacked around a Crimson Tide program that was lost in the wilderness for most of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
To be frank, this game hasn’t meant all that much to my generation outside of the fact that it’s Tennessee-Alabama. Sure, things are bitterly competitive in other sports like basketball and the Vols will always hate the Tide, but when it comes to football, this rivalry really hasn’t really been a rivalry at all.
So, I have a request to make of Josh Heupel. And I know the guy has a lot on his plate right now and what I’m going to ask is certainly a tall task but… can we somehow make Tennessee-Alabama a real rivalry again?
I’m definitely not demanding a win on Saturday, this will undoubtedly be a long-term project, but could we at least give the Tide a hard time this year and then go from there? UT has lost to Bama by less than 20 points only twice in the last 14 attempts. I mean, come on.
There has to be a way to claw back in this thing, and maybe Heupel can find that way. His offense is built different. The Vols went from averaging 346 yards per game in 2020 to averaging 473 yards per game with Heupel. Heupel’s defense with Tim Banks at the helm has been better than expected and gave the Vols multiple chances to beat a solid Ole Miss team last week. And not to say that Bama is vulnerable this year (they never really are) but they did lose to a second-string Texas A&M quarterback who has only thrown 10 touchdowns to 6 interceptions (Hendon Hooker has 14 TDs and 1 INT for comparison).
Yeah, the horses almost certainly aren’t there for the Big Orange to win in Tuscaloosa in 2021, I’ll reiterate that this is a long-term goal and some great recruiting will be required, but I don’t think you can understate how encouraging it would be to just see a legitimately competitive game against Alabama. Make them sweat it out, that’s all I’m asking for now. Beating the bottom half of the SEC is certainly fun but if we’re being honest, there’s simply no denying that competing with the best is what will finally set a coach apart here in Knoxville.
As I already mentioned, I know this is a lot to ask of Heupel and the last four guys that had his job couldn’t do it, but maybe, just maybe, it’s possible. Heupel’s time already feels markedly different from his predecessors, so why not change this too? Let’s make the Alabama game really mean something again.
Featured image via News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn