Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin says the AP Top 25 has it right – Alabama, not Florida, is the No. 1 team in the nation.
He’s practically an expert. By vaulting over the Gators into the top spot in The Associated Press poll, the Crimson Tide set up the Vols’ second game against the No. 1 team in the nation this season.
“I think one poll got it right,” Kiffin said. “If you watch football and pay attention, I don’t think there’s any doubt who the No. 1 team is. Alabama has a great team – very well-coached, extremely talented, great special teams, great on offense, great on defense.”
The Gators are ranked second in the AP Top 25 but first in the USA Today coaches’ poll and Bowl Championship Series standings.
Kiffin said it’s hard to draw many comparisons between the two teams besides talent. Alabama favors size, Florida relies on speed.
He said the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) is a more complete team and says the teams’ games against Arkansas reveals Alabama’s strength. The Tide beat the Razorbacks 35-7 on Sept. 26 and the Gators narrowly beat Arkansas 23-20 on Saturday.
“While they’re both great teams, one team kind of beats you in all three phases: Alabama,” Kiffin said. “The other team will beat you at times but then a lot of times nobody’s open and the quarterback runs around, makes the play. These guys are much more balanced.”
The Vols (3-3, 1-2) lost 23-13 at Florida Sept. 19, when the Gators were No. 1. The fact that Tennessee was competitive when much of the football world predicted a Florida blowout coupled with a big win over Georgia in its last game, gives some Vols players hope.
“We let one slip by against Florida, but we’ve put that behind us now, because we have another opportunity,” guard Vladimir Richard said. “If we would have just corrected a few things, we’d have won the game. So now we’re like, ‘Let’s not come in Sunday … and say the same thing.”
A win by the Vols could mean redemption on several levels. It would be Tennessee’s third all-time win over the top team and would snap a two-game losing skid against its biggest traditional rival.
Tennessee is the first team to play No. 1 twice in the same season since Baylor and Texas Tech in 2000 played both Nebraska and Oklahoma. In 1992, Arizona beat No. 1 Washington 16-3 (Nov. 7) after losing to No. 1 Miami 8-7 (Sept. 26).
For Alabama coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, the ranking doesn’t really mean anything, though.
“Nothing’s really changed for our guys. I mean, what does it matter? What’s changed? What’s changed from this week, from this Monday to last Monday?” Saban said.
Before this season, the Vols hadn’t played a No. 1 team since losing at home to Miami 26-3 in their 2002 homecoming game. They’ve twice lost to Alabama when it was No. 1.
Tennessee has upset only two of the nine top teams it’s faced. An unranked Vols squad beat Auburn 38-20 in 1985, and 13th-ranked Tennessee beat LSU 14-13 in 1959.
It was the chance to add to that list of upsets that was among the reasons defensive tackle Wes Brown, an Athens, Ala., native chose to attend Tennessee.
“This is what you want. This is what you come to Tennessee for. You want to play in the big games,” he said. “No offense to the smaller schools we’ve played, but you come to Tennessee to play a No. 1 team and with a great rivalry like this, you couldn’t ask for much more.”