NCAA FB

No. 2 Alabama heavily favored over rival Tennessee

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP)

Alabama coach Nick Saban made it clear how much this Tennessee game means after people kept trying to change the subject.

Saban got plenty of TV airtime when he let loose an expletive at his news conference to start the week after a question about conference realignment, then implored reporters a couple of days later to stay on topic: Saturday night's rivalry game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

''I have yet to be asked a question about the game,'' Saban, who apologized for the four-letter word, said at mid-week. ''Not one. So if you don't have a question about the game, do me a favor and don't ask because I don't want to get on national TV and embarrass myself any more this week. Is that fair enough?''

That he even had to ask is an oddity for this rivalry, just like playing on the fourth Saturday of October, not the third like the old days.

This is, after all, one of the Southeastern Conference's big traditional rivalries even if Alabama (7-0, 4-0) is favored by 30 points and fighting for a national championship while Tennessee (3-3, 0-3) is merely aiming for its first league win.

Then again, the two teams faced a similar scenario two years ago when top-ranked Alabama needed massive noseguard Terrence Cody to block two fourth-quarter field goals - the second on the game's final play - to preserve a 12-10 win over the struggling Volunteers.

The Tide stayed unbeaten and went on to win the national title and once again is rolling along.

Now, Saban's team has won eight straight games by 16-plus points, `Bama's longest such streak since 1978, and its 52 points last weekend at Mississippi was the program's highest in 22 years against an SEC team.

Tennessee running back Tauren Poole called this ''by far'' the best Alabama team he has faced. The Volunteers make it clear there's more at stake than that first SEC win. The Tide has won the past four meetings and only one of them has been close.

''It's definitely important to the state of Tennessee, state of Alabama, just to everyone,'' Poole said. ''We have to make it a rivalry. We can't go out there and get blown out and not make it a game. We have to continue to fight for this rivalry, for the tradition of this game and work to be in the game with this good football team.''

The seniors don't want to go 0-for-Alabama.

''When you think of Alabama, you always want to leave the University of Tennessee saying you beat them,'' Vols linebacker Austin Johnson said. ''I want to beat these guys.''

This game will supply a gauge of sorts to that showdown between Alabama and No. 1 LSU in two weeks. Tennessee is coming off a 38-7 loss to the Tigers. It at least provides a little more fodder with Alabama and LSU set for an extra week of hype thanks to open dates.

Vols defensive tackle Daniel Hood already gives the Tide an edge, at least on the offensive line and at tailback with Trent Richardson.

''It looks like Alabama's offensive line is exponentially more physical than LSU's,'' Hood said. ''Of course they have the great running back who's probably the best one in the SEC right now. It's going to be a tough game.''

Nobody has stopped Richardson lately. He's already tied Shaun Alexander's school record with six straight 100-yard games and ran for 183 yards and four touchdowns in less than three quarters against Ole Miss.

He'll face the league's eighth-rated run defense, which is giving up 155.8 yards per game on the ground.

Alabama's defense presents an even bigger challenge for the Vols, who are expected to start quarterback Matt Simms for a second straight game with Tyler Bray out with a broken thumb.

Simms completed just six passes and was intercepted twice against LSU. Now, he takes on a team that leads the nation in total, scoring and rush defense.

Poole ended Alabama's 40-game streak without allowing a 100-yard rusher last season.

''If we play assignment football, the chances of something happening like that are slim to none,'' Tide defensive end Damion Square said.

The Tide hasn't given up more than 14 points in a game this season and has outscored its first four SEC opponents by a collective 162-31.

''It's (Saban's) best team,'' Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. ''(It's) probably as physically as dominating defense as I've seen in the modern era of football and I know that is a strong statement, but I believe it. You catch yourself watching them, not studying them.''

Now, he gets to watch them in person.

Tagged: Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Tauren Poole

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