Even if you’re not a fan of either school, here are five—that’s right FIVE--compelling reasons to watch Saturday’s game between No. 1 Alabama (7-0, 4-0) and struggling Tennessee (3-3, 0-3).
1: Alabama’s Nick Saban has a chance to make history: The longest streak in the series belongs, of course, to Alabama’s Paul “Bear” Bryant who won 11 straight games against the Vols between 1971-81. A win Saturday in Tuscaloosa would give Saban a record of 11-0 against Tennessee as the Alabama head coach.
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2: You may be seeing Butch Jones’s last game as Tennessee’s head coach: Jones and his Volunteers suffered another brutally-close loss last week to South Carolina (15-9) in Knoxville. Speculation about Jones’s future is rampant. A blowout loss to Alabama (a 34-point favorite), just might be the last straw.
3: Damien Harris. In each of the past two games, Alabama’s junior running back has broken off a 75-yard touchdown run. Last week against Arkansas it came on the very first play of the game. The native of Richmond, Ky., has gained 625 yards on just 68 carries. His average of 9.19 yards per carry is second nationally to Stanford’s Bryce Love (10.27 ypc).
4: Will Tennessee score a touchdown? The Vols haven’t reached the end zone in 10 consecutive quarters, and that touchdown came against UMass. Just so you’ll know, Alabama has given up only eight touchdowns in seven games this season. Only Penn State (7 touchdowns in six games) has allowed fewer.
5: Will Alabama cover? The Crimson Tide is a gaudy 34 ½ point favorite at home against the Volunteers who, as we just mentioned, are having trouble scoring points. Alabama has won its four SEC games by an average of 40.5 points.
LSU, OLE MISS IN A BETTER PLACE
Two weeks ago LSU and Ole Miss were both in a very, very bad place.
LSU was coming off an unthinkable 24-21 loss at home to Troy and Tigers coach Ed Orgeron was coming under tremendous heat.
Ole Miss, coming off an open date, was simply overwhelmed by Alabama 66-3. The following week the Rebels were manhandled by Auburn 44-23.
But as Saturday’s game between these two old rivals approaches, things are looking better.
After stunning wins at Florida (17-16) and at home against Auburn (27-23), LSU (5-1, 2-1) suddenly controls its own destination in the SEC West. The Tigers get an open date after Ole Miss and then finish with Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M.
Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) finally got some relief after a three-game losing streak to California (27-16), Alabama (66-3) and Auburn (44-33) with an impressive 57-35 win against Vanderbilt.
Ole Miss is hanging its short-term future on quarterback Shea Patterson, who is second in the nation in passing yardage with an average of 357.2 yards per game.
Patterson knows he has his hands full with the LSU defense:
“All I see is a long big, fast guys, who really know how to play football,” Patterson told me this week.
A STRONG FINISH FOR KENTUCKY?
Kentucky (5-1, 2-1 SEC) is off to its best start since 2007. After taking last week off the Wildcats have six games and in every one, perhaps a Nov. 18 trip to Georgia an exception, have a legitimate shot to win.
You would think Kentucky fans would be thrilled. But there is stilling this nagging sense of disappointment because of the 28-27 loss to Florida on Sept. 23. You’ll remember that in that game Kentucky had a 27-14 lead and failed to cover Gator receivers not once but twice. Both resulted in gift touchdowns.
“That was a tough loss, as tough as any loss as I’ve been around,” said senior kicker Austin MacGuiness. “But we’ve put it behind us. Everything is in front of us. We’re looking to have a strong finish.”
First Kentucky must win a way to win at Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2), where the Wildcats haven’t won since 2005.
Last season MacGuiness, the school’s all-time leading scorer, kicked a career-high 51-yard field goal on the last play of the game to give Kentucky a 40-38 win.
**--What kind of odds in the preseason could you have gotten that when Louisville (4-3, 1-3 ACC) and Florida State (2-3, 2-2) met that neither would be ranked? Remember that Louisville took the Seminoles to the woodshed 63-20 last season at Papa John’s Stadium. I believe the folks in Tallassee will be enthusiastic about this game.
**--After a breathtaking 25-24 win over Georgia Tech last Saturday, the Miami Hurricanes (5-0, 3-0) are ranked No. 8 in the AP poll and back in the national conversation. Mark Richt, in his second year at his alma mater, is starting to get some attention as a possible coach of the year.
“You’re not a Top 10 team until you finish the year as a Top 10 team,” Richt told reporters this week.
Now the Hurricanes host Syracuse (4-3, 2-1), which is coming off the upset of No. 2 Clemson last Friday.
After Syracuse, Miami’s two toughest games—Nov. 4 vs. Virginia Tech and Nov. 11 vs. Notre Dame—are at home.
**--It’s been a tough weekend at Auburn (5-2, 3-1) which blew a 20-0 lead and lost at LSU 27-23. Now the Tigers go back on the road to play Arkansas (2-4, 0-3). Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn has really been catching heat this week, even though his team can still win the SEC by running the table. And it doesn’t help that Malzahn kicked backup receiver Kyle Davis (7 catches, 210 yards) off the team on Tuesday.