KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -A win against No. 2 Alabama would make quite a statement for Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, but so would a loss.
Fulmer, the dean of Southeastern Conference coaches, is fighting to prove he can right the Vols after a rocky start. Tennessee (3-4, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) hasn't beaten a ranked opponent or been over .500 this season, putting Fulmer as close to the hot seat as he's ever had.
Still, Fulmer says it's nothing quite like playing the Volunteers' archrival.
d Tennessee,'' Fulmer said. ``I've been fortunate to be a part of a lot of them, and I just love this week.''
The game is just as important to the Crimson Tide (7-0, 4-0), who are fighting to remain the only SEC team in contention for the national championship.
If all of that isn't enough pressure on the long-running ``Third Saturday in October'' rivalry game, consider the recent history.
Alabama and Tennessee have alternated wins in the last four games in this usually streaky series. The Tide embarrassed the Vols last season with a 41-17 win in Tuscaloosa but has not won back-to-back games since 1991-92.
``It's a big game and it's definitely a big game for us. We know that and they know that,'' Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson said. ``It puts a bigger price on everything.''
Wilson had a career day in last year's game, throwing for 363 yards and three touchdown and tying the school's single-game record of 32 completions. DJ Hall had a school-record 13 catches for 185 yards, and the defense pitched a second-half shutout.
Fulmer called it a bad day. Tennessee safety Eric Berry said it was the defensive backs' lowest point in a season which they struggled for many games.
l like we made great strides this offseason, and we're looking forward to get some payback.''
Berry certainly has made strides since then. Last week against Mississippi State he set the SEC career record for interception return yards with 397. He now leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with five picks this season.
Wilson might have been a better target a year ago when he through 12 interceptions. This year he's only thrown three.
The real battle in the game will come at the line of scrimmage. Alabama's offensive linemen average 308 pounds and have been the key in Alabama's wildly successful running game, which leads the SEC with an average 209.3 yards and 15 touchdowns.
The Vols' defensive line is coming off a strong performance against Mississippi State and has allowed only two touchdowns on the ground this season.
``I told these guys not to take away anything from what we've played against, but (Alabama) is the best offensive line we've played against in a long time,'' defensive line coach Dan Brooks said.
On the flip side, the Crimson Tide will be without Terrence Cody. The imposing 6-foot-5, 365-pound nose guard is expected to miss at least the next two games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
h Chapman, a 6-1, 305-pound sophomore, has played plenty of snaps, and Tide coaches and players say he's as strong as anyone on the team.
``He plays with strength. He plays with power. He plays run-blocks very well. He is a true nose guard for what we want and he has played all year,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
That's bad news for Tennessee's run game, which posted 139 yards last week against Mississippi State after netting only a single yard the week before against Georgia.
With the inconsistency on the ground and youth at quarterback - Nick Stephens, a sophomore, is starting in only his fourth game - Fulmer knows there's no pounding it out against the Tide.
``In this ball game, we'll have to have a wide receiver somewhere make a play for us, or a tailback make a play for us,'' Fulmer said.

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