Tide-Vols not just about titles, it's personal

Updated: October 20, 2005, 5:17 PM ET
Associated Press

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama is unbeaten and suddenly thinking about Southeastern Conference and national championships.

But that's not the only reason the fifth-ranked Crimson Tide wants to beat No. 17 Tennessee on Saturday.

"We want to win this one for the fans," free safety Charlie Peprah said.

It's unlikely anything would make Tide fans happier -- maybe not even a win over Auburn at season's end.

Beat Tennessee. Get the best of Phillip Fulmer. End the misery in an increasingly bitter rivalry that's grown nasty at times off the field amid courtroom clashes, NCAA investigations and, of course, the fact that the Vols have simply been dominating the matchup for a decade.

It's not just about titles for Alabama fans. It's personal.

The players don't publicly express anything but respect for Fulmer, the Tennessee coach who helped turn Alabama in for NCAA recruiting violations in a case that spawned both sanctions and lawsuits. Tide fans, like their elephant mascot, have long memories.

"They really want this one," Peprah said. "There's only a couple of coaches they really don't like. I don't need to name them, but he's up there on the list.

"Everywhere I go it's, "Make sure you get those Vols or make sure you get those Tigers.' The last couple of years it's, 'Make sure you get those Vols."

In other Top 25 games Saturday, it's No. 1 Southern Cal at Washington; No. 10 Texas Tech at No. 2 Texas; Arkansas at No. 4 Georgia; No. 16 Auburn at No. 7 LSU; Oregon State at No. 8 UCLA; BYU at No. 9 Notre Dame; and Duke at No. 11 Florida State.

Also it's No. 12 Penn State at Illinois; No. 14 Ohio State at Indiana; No. 15 Oregon at Arizona; Purdue at No. 19 Wisconsin; No. 21 TCU at Air Force; Northwestern at No. 22 Michigan State; No. 23 Virginia at North Carolina; No. 24 Fresno State at Idaho; and Washington State at No. 25 California.

Tennessee (3-2, 2-2 SEC) has won nine of the past 10 meetings with Alabama. The Vols settled the manner on the field the past two seasons with a five-overtime victory that even included a game-saving conversion on fourth-and-19 and an interception to stop a late drive in last season's 17-13 win.

By the way, Alabama (6-0, 4-0) is also fighting to win its division and trying to move to 7-0 for the first time since 1996.

"It'll be the biggest game in Tuscaloosa since we've been here," Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle said.

For his part, Fulmer dismisses concerns about the harsh feelings some Tide fans harbor toward him. "Lingering energy," he calls it.

And what about his own success against the Tide?

"That's one of those freaky things," Fulmer said. "I don't know how to talk about that. We just take (them) each one at a time. You don't even think about those other than the personnel that's back or the scheme you saw before."

Players on both sides mainly seem bemused by the animosity that's boiled over into courtrooms several times:

--A $30 million verdict by a Tuscaloosa County jury for former Tide assistant Ronnie Cottrell against recruiting analyst Tom Culpepper, another secret witness in the case that landed Alabama on probation.

--The federal conviction of former Tide booster Logan Young of Memphis on charges that he paid $150,000 to steer a star recruit to the Tide.

--A defamation lawsuit, still unresolved, filed against Fulmer by a former Tide recruit who played one season for Tennessee.

"None of us are lawyers," Tennessee quarterback Rick Clausen said. "We didn't know what was going on and quite frankly I don't think it really mattered.

"Whatever happened off the field is not going to help us on Saturday. It's not going to give us three points on the board before the game starts."

Clausen doesn't think Fulmer's demeanor changes from game to game -- not even on Alabama week. But he knows two things: Fulmer is "a Tennessee guy" and this rivalry is "big time."

"I think it's the ultimate rivalry in the SEC," Clausen said. "There's always a little more passion when it comes to this game."

Or, as Tide coach Mike Shula puts it: "A lot of guys are measured in both programs on how they play in this game."

This year's game has a twist from recent meetings: Tennessee's struggling and Alabama's talking titles. The Vols have had the much tougher schedule and are playing their fourth game against a team ranked in the top 10, though Florida has fallen out since its 16-7 victory -- after losing to Alabama 31-3.

"I'm sure they probably do smell blood," said Vols guard Arron Sears, an Alabama native. "We're two games down in the SEC right now and they're really on top. They haven't been on top in a while. They're seeing us down and really want to keep us down. I know how it is in Alabama."

At Austin, Texas, the Red Raiders (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) will finally face a top-notch opponent after beating up on a bunch of weak opponents, averaging 53.7 points and 472 yards per game. Last week, QB Cody Hodges passed for 643 yards and five touchdowns in a rout of Kansas State.

The Longhorns (6-0, 3-0) bottled up Tech's pass-happy offense last year and won 51-21. This year, the 'Horns have new defensive coordinator in Gene Chizik, who will have to come up with an answer for Tech's wide-open game.

At Champaign, Ill., Penn State (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) visits Illinois (2-4, 0-3) hoping to rebound from a last-play loss at Michigan. Nittany Lions QB Michael Robinson said it took a few days to get over the 27-25 defeat.

"It was tough all of Saturday night and all of Sunday, I was thinking about what we could have done differently," Robinson said. "But now I've totally forgotten about it. I'm just trying to get it out of my mind and focus on Illinois."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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