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Alabama head coach Nick Saban directs his team during drills. The top-ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide visited the University of Tennessee Volunteers in SEC football action on October 15, 2016

When Nick Saban was hired as Alabama's football coach in January 2007, he inherited a tradition-rich rivalry against Tennessee that contained 10 wins by the Volunteers in the previous 12 seasons.

Saban turned those tables overnight, winning the 2007 encounter 41-17 inside Bryant-Denny Stadium and leading the Crimson Tide to 10 more victories in the decade since. Alabama's 11-game winning streak against Tennessee has transpired by the average score of 36-11, and the Crimson Tide can become the first team ever to defeat the Vols 12 consecutive times when the two square off Saturday afternoon inside Neyland Stadium.

Alabama won 11 straight over Tennessee from 1971 to 1981 under legendary Paul "Bear" Bryant, and Florida vanquished the Vols 11 times in a row from 2005 to 2015 with three different coaches: Urban Meyer, Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain.

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban is upset with his team in his third quarter. The top-ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide visited the University of Tennessee Volunteers in SEC football action on October 15, 2016

STREAKING AWAY

The longest losing streaks Tennessee has endured since joining the SEC in 1933:

11 — Alabama (2007-present)

11 — Alabama (1971-81)

11 — Florida (2005-2015)

8 — Ole Miss (1959-66)

7 — Alabama (1986-92)

6 — Auburn (2003-13)

Source: UT media guide

Though he has transformed Alabama's once-tight series edge of 43-38-7 to a more commanding 54-38-7, Saban believes this colorful clash has not lessened one bit.

"To me it's a big game, and it doesn't matter what happened last year or 10 years ago," Saban said Monday in his weekly news conference. "This week it's the most important thing. They just had a big win, so we're going to have to be at our best to take advantage of every opportunity we have to be able to be successful.

"In my mind it hasn't changed at all. This is the most important Tennessee-Alabama game ever played, because it's the one we're playing now."

Alabama has won the past two meetings by a combined 94-17, the largest two-year margin in series history. The lopsided nature of this rivalry in recent seasons has not been mirrored by the Iron Bowl, with Auburn having defeated Saban four times, including last season.

Most of Alabama's players have no recollection of Tennessee's last win in the series, a 16-13 triumph in 2006.

"It's not equal to Auburn, but it's still a big game," sophomore right tackle Jedrick Wills told reporters. "I wouldn't consider it a rivalry."

The last five Tennessee teams were coached by Butch Jones, who is now an offensive analyst with the top-ranked Crimson Tide, and this year's Vols are guided by Jeremy Pruitt.

Pruitt worked under Saban as Alabama's director of player development (2007-09), secondary coach (2010-12) and defensive coordinator (2016-17), aiding in four of Saban's five national championship teams in Tuscaloosa. His first season in Knoxville has yielded a 3-3 start that was greatly enhanced by last Saturday's 30-24 upset of No. 21 Auburn inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"Jeremy has done a good job with their team," Saban said. "They're playing with a lot of discipline and toughness. If you just look at their improvement from the beginning until now, it's pretty phenomenal.

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Alabama head coach Nick Saban congratulates quarterback Jalen Hurts (2) after a third quarter Bama touchdown. The top-ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide visited the University of Tennessee Volunteers in SEC football action on October 15, 2016

"This is as well-coached of a team as we've played all year long."

Saban has been impressed with the play of Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano as well as receivers Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway and Josh Palmer, adding, "They get 50-50 balls, so that's going to be a real big key for us defensively."

Alabama started preparation for Tennessee on Monday with a two-hour workout in helmets and shoulder pads. Sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who tweaked his knee in the 65-31 win at Arkansas on Oct. 6 and tweak it again last Saturday in the 39-10 victory over visiting Missouri, practiced with a brace.

"He's probably better this week than he was last week," Saban said. "We'll see how he does in practice and will continue to evaluate him."

Sophomore receiver DeVonta Smith (hamstring) was limited in Monday's practice and remains questionable for the game.

Tide tidbits

Wills graded out a career-best 91 percent against Missouri, and he has yet to allow a sack this season in 402 snaps. ... Saban said he met with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey on Monday about junior defensive end Raekwon Davis, who punched a Missouri offensive lineman and could be facing an internal punishment that includes a reduction in playing time. ... ESPN's midseason All-America team released Monday contained four Crimson Tide players: Tagovailoa, receiver Jerry Jeudy, left tackle Jonah Williams and safety Deionte Thompson.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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