By: The All Vol Call in Show Staff
The Third Saturday in October: a rivalry that has seen some of the best teams, best games, and best finishes in college football history. SEC juggernauts Tennessee and Alabama face-off in the 104th installment of the rivalry Saturday. For the first time since 1989, both teams come into the matchup ranked inside the top 10. The two teams have met 10 times whilst ranked in the top 10, with Tennessee winning seven of those matchups. Do the sixth-ranked Vols and their potent offense have what it takes to break a 15-year losing streak to the third-ranked Crimson Tide?
John Dunn (Founder, Managing Editor, Host)
For the first time since I was a teenager, it feels like Tennessee has more than a chance to defeat Alabama. I turned 30 years old this year, and Tennessee is on a 15-game losing streak to the Tide. For half my life Tennessee has fallen to the guys from the SEC West.
I grew up hearing about this rivalry and what it meant to this team, this program, and this fan base. I have yet to see this series ever be competitive. That changes this weekend.
For the first time in my journalistic career, and for the first time since I was a young man, I can confidently say, "the Vols are back." Something looks and feels different about this team. Yes, we've said these things before, but this year, they are backing it up, at least up to this point.
This game is very interesting for a variety of reasons. 1.) Tennessee has the offense to outscore anyone in this country. 2.) Alabama may be without their starting quarterback. 3.) The game is Knoxville, and the atmosphere is going to be insane. 4.) Alabama hasn't played an offense like Tennessee's yet. 5.) Tennessee hasn't played a team like Alabama either.
There is a lot to digest in this game, but there is also something that you won't find on a stat sheet, depth chart, or scouting report: destiny. Like I previously mentioned, something just feels different about this bunch. Hendon Hooker and company seem to have complete control of what's going on down on the field at all times. With confidence, experience, and talent, it's hard not to have confidence in this team.
However, Alabama comes into the game with a top 10 defense and offense. They can score the ball and keep teams from scoring as well. Does Alabama have enough to slow Tennessee down enough to outscore them?
Without Bryce Young, I believe Tennessee wins this game handily. Crazy, right? That being said, I believe that with Bryce Young, Tennessee still finds a way to get it done. I expect the Vols defense to step up in the passing game, especially if Milroe lines up under center. Tennessee will look to contain Jahmyr Gibbs and force the Tide to beat them through the air.
Prediction: Tennessee - 45 | Alabama - 35 (With Young)
Prediction: Tennessee - 45 | Alabama - 24 (With Milroe)
Dallas Bowlin (Senior Staff Writer)
The last time Tennessee was in this situation where it found itself with a real chance to beat Alabama was in 2016. Unfortunately, the Vols dropped that one 49-10. Coincidentally, that was also the last time Tennessee started 5-0. The difference between the 2016 season and now though, is that 2016 admittedly felt fluky, and a little like fool's gold.
This season, however, it actually feels like Tennessee is back to being a very good football team. Last weekend in Baton Rouge the Vols were able to accumulate five total quarterback sacks against a very talented LSU offensive line. If Tennessee can recreate that, be prepared to break out the cigars.
Prediction: Tennessee - 34 | Alabama - 31
William Allen (Senior Staff Writer)
History celebrates a continued tradition of victory cigars, which began in the 1950’s, when Alabama athletic trainer Jim Goostree passed out cigars following victories over Tennessee. 104 times Alabama and Tennessee have clashed, and the Crimson Tide lead the series 58-38-8. 1901 was the first meeting between these two teams which ended up in a 6-6 tie. Last year's game ended with Alabama winning 52-24, but this isn’t last year.
This Saturday, we’ll know if Tennessee can take the next step or if Alabama will continue its 15-game winning streak. Bryce Young's availability has been questioned all week due to a sprained throwing shoulder suffered against Arkansas. Jalin Milroe is the backup quarterback and committed three turnovers as Alabama barely escaped unranked Texas A&M 24-20, at home last weekend.
Tennessee has been tested by Pitt, Florida and looked exceptional in a 40-13 win at LSU. Quarterback Hendon Hooker hasn’t thrown an interception all season and the Heisman trophy conversation is catching fire. The Vols defense is showing grit up front, allowing 17.8 points per game which is 22nd in the nation.
Running back Jahmyr Gibbs is statistically the best weapon for Alabama. There’s no breakout wide receiver for the Tide, which normally produces NFL talents like Jaylen Waddle and DeVonte Smith. Alabama is still one of the best football teams in the nation. Tennessee is confident with one of the best offenses in the country and Neyland will be rockin’. The team with the fewest turnovers and penalties will win this game.
Prediction: Tennessee - 42 | Alabama - 38
Zack Strickland (Junior Staff Writer)
The crimson elephant in the room is the status of Bryce Young, and that by itself makes this game very hard to predict. Jalen Milroe is a gifted athlete, but simply isn’t very comfortable yet in the intermediate-to-deep passing game. The Vols want to key on the run as much as possible in order to maximize their chances of keeping dynamic RB Jahmyr Gibbs, a threat to score at any time, in check. That becomes much harder to do if Bryce Young plays and is near full strength. Alabama will certainly get their yards and their points.
The Vol defense just needs to manufacture enough timely stops to stay on the right side of the scoreboard, whether that comes via turnovers, 4th down stops, or simply forcing field goals in the red zone.
Tennessee’s offense is good enough that they shouldn’t be scared of anyone’s defense, but Alabama has probably the second-best defense UT will face this season. The pass rush, spearheaded by Will Anderson and Dallas Turner, can be a weapon of mass destruction, so we may see the Vols try to max protect on downfield passing plays. Even without Cedric Tillman, the Vols should feel good about their chances to hit some big plays in one-on-one matchups against the Bama corners, or force pass inference calls, if the refs choose to oblige.
Tennessee needs to run the ball effectively against a staunch rush defense, and something tells me Hendon Hooker needs to be a huge part of that effort, as he was against Florida, if that’s going to happen.
If both teams are at full strength and play their A game, Alabama probably wins. But Tennessee has been playing a lot closer to their A game recently than Alabama has, and the Bryce Young factor here is massive since the Tide have exhibited a significant drop off in his absence. I don’t think the stage will be too big for the Vols, as they showed the ability to handle the pressure in a big win over Florida.
If there was ever a right time to catch Bama, it’s now. They’ve had a few shaky performances already but haven’t suffered their annual wake-up loss yet. Realistically, the Tide are still a bit better as an overall team than Tennessee is, but the Vols may be in a better spot right now, on October 15th. Tennessee finds a way, and pandemonium reigns in Knoxville.
Prediction: Tennessee - 28 | Alabama - 26
Zack Troutt (Junior Staff Writer)
Saying this is a big game is a massive understatement. The last time Tennessee and Alabama were ranked this high when playing each other the Vols won the national championship. I’m not saying that will happen this season, but history does have a way of repeating itself.
This game comes with a lot of question marks. Is Bama’s Heisman-winning QB Bryce Young going to play, and how effective will he be if he does? Can Tennessee’s secondary hold up to Bama’s passing attack? You can ask the same thing about Bama’s secondary. How will Bama’s offensive line perform against Tennessee’s aggressive pass rush? How will Tennessee handle the magnitude of this game? I can tell you one thing: Josh Heupel will have his troops in the frame of mind and ready to play.
It’s been a long time since Tennessee has been able to stand toe-to-toe with the Crimson Tide, but I believe they have a real shot this weekend. Light up those big orange victory cigars. This one is going to be fun.
Prediction: Tennessee - 27 | Alabama - 24
Jake Hubbard (Junior Staff Writer)
Alabama comes into this one riding a close win against a struggling Texas A&M team. It was a nailbiter that went the Tides direction with the clock winding down. But this is college football, and a win is a win. With Bryce Young injured and Will Anderson not being the All-SEC linebacker we know from last year; Alabama has had to get creative to squeak out several wins this season; something the dominant Tide is not particularly used to.
Something that Tennessee has become sadly unfamiliar with is being on the winning side of key games. With the thirteen men on the field fiasco against LSU, a close loss to Pitt in 2021, and innumerable heartbreaking endings against Florida, Tennessee has become accustomed to going home disappointed. Cue Josh Heupel. Riding veteran QB Hendon Hooker, the Vols boast the most explosive offense in the country. The Heupel/Hooker duo has undoubtedly changed the trajectory of The Big Orange. The culture is different, the feeling in the air is different. It is hard to describe.
Bryce Young is unquestionably one of the most talented players in the country, and when healthy, brings something to the table that most quarterbacks can only dream of. However, if we see Bryce Young on Saturday, I’m not convinced that he is going to be 100%. With that being said, Tennessee’s offense has continued to show improvement throughout the season and continue to put up gaudy numbers. The defensive front has looked tough, and absolutely shut down a run-first LSU offense. I believe that Tennessee more than compensates for our lack of depth in the secondary by continuing to put up big numbers on the offensive side of the ball.
If Bryce sits or isn’t 100% healthy, this could be detrimental for the Tide. My mind is telling me no, but my heart, my heart is telling me yes. This is the year the Vols find the Achilles heel to bring down the Alabama powerhouse. Light your cigars, I’ll see you at Neyland.
Prediction: Tennessee - 45 | Alabama - 34
Joe Davis (Junior Staff Writer)
The Third Saturday in October is here and did it ever arrive with bells on. Alabama is undefeated and ranked third. The Vols arrive also undefeated and ranked #6. What's on the line here? The question is what's not on the line?
Tennessee was left for dead just 18 months ago and now find themselves with a chance to put themselves solidly in the playoff picture. This is business as usual for Alabama. Another top ranked game, another team taking a swing at the King. Where is the difference in any other game that Alabama has played in years past? This is Tennessee. The Tide have struggled on the road in recent years, and this will be an environment unlike many have seen in college football in a long time. The Tide desperately need Bryce Young to play in this game as backup Jalen Milroe is not as adept at passing as Young and a one-dimensional offense could hamper the Tide in an absolutely hostile environment.
Quarterback Hendon Hooker has his Heisman moment teed up. A huge game and a win and Hooker become a shoo-in for an invite to New York. Lastly, pressure is on the Vols side. While the Vols have played themselves into contention for much bigger prizes, a season of 10-2 and a New Year's Six Bowl game is almost a lock at this point. Tennessee, win or lose has a lot to play for going forward. But for Alabama, a loss wrecks the streak and puts them in a very precarious position when it comes to the playoff picture.
I think this game hinges on Bryce Young's health. I also don't think Bryce Love will be 100% for this game.
Goal Posts be warned.
Prediction: Tennessee - 41 | Alabama - 38