The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide roll into Knoxville on Saturday looking to claim another SEC scalp, but there’s a bit more to this game than meets the eye. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the master but apparently he doesn’t reveal all of the tricks in his bag – even to his closest pupils.
It’s akin to the old Kung Fu television series where the ancient, blind Buddhist monk and kung fu master educates his student, Kwai Chang Caine, into the doctrines of self-defense and life in general. Caine eventually snatches the elusive pebble from his hand, which signals (amongst a chorus of pan flutes) that he has learned all the old man can teach and it’s time to set forth on his own path. That journey takes him to America, circa late 1800s, where he faces a slew of racist and uneducated cowboys willing to teach the slender, soft-spoken foreigner a lesson about “how things ‘git done in the good ol’ US of A”. Caine, backed into a corner each and every week, proceeds to kick any and all asses that come his way.
Back to reality. Until this point in time, there have been 13 assistant head coaches who have flown Saban’s nest and have shown up, later on, to take on the master as a head coach and there was not one Kwai Chang Caine amongst them. Saban has vanquished each and every one of his former assistants, and only Kirby Smart of Georgia gave him the slightest inkling that the pebble would be snatched from his hand.
Of course, Smart came up short in the 26-23 overtime decision that won the CFP championship for Bama last season but it was in stark contrast to the other humiliating losses experienced by the other dozen Saban disciples. Consider for a moment that in those 13 contests against his former assistants-turned-head coaches that Saban’s team holds a 498-157 advantage. Breaking that out it tells us that the average score is roughly 38-12.
Guess who’s next? A rhetorical question, for sure, because every red-blooded Vols fan knows that first-year coach Jeremy Pruitt toiled in the trenches with Saban as his defensive coordinator for eight seasons at Alabama. Unfortunately, Pruitt needs pure thoroughbreds to compete with the wagon that Saban is bringing to town this Saturday, but Tennessee has a stable of Clydesdales. Hearty, substantial, work-horses that will do the heavy lifting but not meant to keep pace with Kentucky Derby contenders like Alabama.
But let’s not completely despair because Tennessee looked more like Secretariat and less like Mr. Ed in last week’s stunning road victory over No. 21 Auburn as 15-point underdogs. Sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano passed for 328 yards and two touchdowns as the Vols broke an 11-game losing streak to SEC foes. Tennessee now stands at 1-2 in the conference and 3-3 overall. As they head into this clash with Alabama, Tennessee has won only two of the last 12 meetings.
As we take a look at what Sportsbook Review’s best online sportsbooks are dealing on this game we see that the Tide are whopping 29-point favorites at virtually all of the majors. Although we are not predicting that Saban’s winning streak against his former protégés will come to a halt this week, we can’t help but feel that the Vols could hang tough enough to get the cover with all those points that the oddsmakers are giving us.
The last time these teams met in Knoxville was 2016 and the Vols were blown away 49-10 as 15-point home pups. Buoyed by their performance last week, it may allow Tennessee to hang and bang with the best team in the nation and one of the greatest coaches to ever roam the gridiron. But we’re just not sure Jeremy Pruitt is ready to ascend to Kwai Chang Caine status quite yet.