There was a time when the clash between the Big Ten powers of Michigan and Minnesota was one of college football’s most intense rivalries. They started playing for “the little brown jug” as a trophy in 1904.
The weather is changing. Minnesota’s footballing prowess has faded, while Michigan’s has soared. Since 1968, Minnesota has won only four times. The brown jug remains in play, but it’s hardly a rivalry.
Times are also changing in the Southeastern Conference.
Tennessee and Alabama once had an annual grudge game. If it’s still a rivalry, it’s like a rivalry between a bug and a windshield.
Tennessee, of course, is the bug that has been splashed about by Alabama for 14 straight years.
The Tide has been so dominant that LSU has even objected to this game being played every year. The argument is that Alabama scores an easy victory over Tennessee every year, while LSU has to fight Florida every year.
The Tigers are right too.
Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports
The Vols will have to play a perfect match to defeat the Tide at Tuscaloosa on Saturday.
The last time Tennessee won, running back Arian Foster scored a touchdown with 3:28 left for a 16-13 victory. Foster retired in 2016 after a successful career in the NFL and is now a musical artist known as Bobby Feeno.
There is no doubt that Alabama’s winning streak will extend to 15 on Saturday. Alabama (6-1, 3-1) is ranked fourth in the country. Tennessee (4-3, 2-2) will likely finish fourth in the SEC East Division.
The only real question is whether the “third Saturday in October” – a game that doesn’t always play on the third Saturday in October – is still a rivalry?
Earlier this week, Alabama coach Nick Saban insisted it still is.
“Well you can say it however you like, but it’s important if you’re not having success in the game because it’s important to a lot of people,” Saban said. “And what happened for many years will have no impact on this game and the only thing that matters is what is happening now.”
Tennessee freshman coach Josh Heupel agreed. Type of.
“For us, it’s really important that we continue to develop the culture and build our program,” Heupel said. “Absolutely it’s important to get a victory in this football game and the rivalry between the two schools. But for us, it’s about controlling the controllable elements and continuing to grow and prepare in the right way.
In truth, Alabama-Tennessee has become more of a tradition than a rivalry.
It’s a tradition that winning players celebrate by smoking Victory Cigars.
And it has become a tradition for Alabama players to smoke them after they smoke the Volunteers.
Around the SEC
Who shot: Someone has to play defense for LSU, right? Linebacker Damone Clark certainly is. He leads the SEC with 79 tackles. Clark has been particularly productive lately. He’s posted double-digit tackle totals in each of the Tigers’ last four games.
Who is not : Ole Miss’s run defense has been exposed and exploited in the SEC game. Alabama ran for 210 yards on the Rebels. Then Arkansas rode for 350 yards. Tennessee followed with 222 last week. That’s an average of 260.6 yards in SEC play. Overall, the Rebs are allowing 198.3 yards to rank 111th nationally against the rush.
Keep an eye on: LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price pulled the Tigers out of a rushed coma. LSU had not delivered more than 84 rushing yards in four games against FBS opponents until two weeks ago. But Davis-Price rushed for 147 yards and scored two touchdowns against Kentucky. Then he exploded for 287 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Florida last week. Look for another great release from him. The Tigers face off against Ole Miss.
The pressure is there: The Tennessee Volunteers offensive line has allowed 25 sacks so far. That’s eight more than the next elusive line (South Carolina). Then the Vols face Alabama. Tide linebacker Will Anderson leads the SEC in sacks after posting four last week. Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker may know Anderson well.
Best match: Despite all of South Carolina’s problems, their defensive line is actually pretty solid. DE Kingsley Enagbare is a 2020 All-SEC selection with 15 career sacks. Meanwhile, junior DT Zacch Pickens is a former five-star recruit. Senior DE Aaron Sterling and senior TD Jabari Ellis round out the defensive front. They present a challenge for the Texas A&M offensive line which has made considerable progress in recent weeks. All-American Kenyon Green is playing at a high level, while first-year center Bryce Foster and tackle Reuben Fatheree have steadily improved.
This week’s SEC program
- South Carolina to Texas A&M
- Tennessee, Alabama
- LSU to Ole Miss
- Mississippi State at Vanderbilt
- Arkansas vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Little Rock