As a member of the Knoxville Catholic Fighting Irish, offensive lineman Cade Mays was a part of Tennessee high school state championship teams in 2015 and 2017.
During his two seasons with the Georgia Bulldogs in 2018-19, Mays aided in two Southeastern Conference Eastern Division titles and a pair of Sugar Bowl trips.
In other words, the 6-foot-6, 320-pounder has never been a three-touchdown underdog on the football field until now.
Tennessee is currently a 21-point underdog for Saturday's game against No. 2 Alabama inside Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers climbed to No. 14 after wins over South Carolina and Missouri to open the season but have since plummeted after lopsided losses to Georgia and Kentucky.
The Crimson Tide look as strong as ever, winning all four games by at least 15 points, including last weekend's 41-24 triumph over Georgia.
"I don't really think much about being an underdog or who's supposed to win or who's not supposed to win," Mays said this week. "It's the SEC, and anybody can win week in and week out. It's a competitive league, so being an underdog doesn't concern me.
"We're going to go to work this week and make things happen."
Alabama has made things happen in this rivalry since Nick Saban assumed the reins in 2007, winning all 13 matchups and claiming 11 of them by at least two touchdowns. There have been years in which oddsmakers have installed enormous point spreads for this game and Alabama still pulled the line, such as the 45-10 romp in 2013 when the Tide were 27.5-point favorites, the 45-7 victory in 2017 when they were 37-point favorites and the 58-21 whipping two years ago in Knoxville when they were 29-point favorites.
The Tide are 9-4 against the spread during this 13-year run, with last year serving as a rare exception when they didn't cover: Alabama entered Bryant-Denny Stadium as a 34.5-point favorite and won 35-13.
"Any team can be beat each weekend in the SEC, as you can kind of see with what has happened in the different games," Vols center Brandon Kennedy said. "When we come in each week, we just focus on every opponent just like we do everybody else. We don't put too much on one or too much on the other."
Kennedy spent his first three college years at Alabama before transferring to Tennessee after the 2017 season and receiving a sixth year of eligibility.
While Tennessee is seeking some optimism this week after committing seven turnovers in its past six quarters and getting outscored 61-7, Alabama is trying to make sure it isn't riding too high after last week's impressive win. Overlooking opponents has not been an issue under Saban, as evidenced by 93 consecutive victories against unranked opposition.
"I hope we're past it," senior running back Najee Harris said. "We have a 24-hour rule. We enjoy the win for 24 hours, and we move on to the next team. We're playing another good team, so hopefully our mind will be on this week and this game."
That has not been an issue for Mays.
"I've never actually played against Alabama," he said. "We played against them my freshman year in the SEC championship game, and I was coming off a medical issue, so I didn't get to play in that game. Looking at their team this year, they're very physical and have a lot of depth. They're really good in the front seven and the back half.
"They're very fast and just very technically sound. It's obvious that they're very well coached."
Tennessee is practicing this week with head coach Jeremy Pruitt as the defensive line coach as well because of Sunday's dismissal of Jimmy Brumbaugh after only four games. Pruitt was asked on Wednesday's SEC teleconference how in these difficult financial times for universities and athletic departments could he justify a move that has resulted in Brumbaugh collecting more than $800,000 in severance.
"Well, number one, you do what you think is best for our players," Pruitt said. "Every decision we've ever made around here has been what's best for our student-athlete, and we'll continue to do that."
This will be the eighth consecutive Alabama-Tennessee game involving Butch Jones, with the former Vols head coach now in his third year with the Tide. Jones spent the past two seasons as an offensive analyst but earlier this year became a special assistant to Saban.
"Butch is an off-the-field coach for us and does a lot of things for me personally as a special assistant in terms of evaluating certain things on practice film and evaluating a lot of organizational things internally here," Saban said Wednesday. "He's done a really good job for me, and I really like having him be a part of our staff."
Odds and ends
Pruitt on his quarterbacks: "We've repped several guys, and we'll continue to do that as the week goes. As we get closer, we'll probably narrow it down to who exactly will be healthy enough and who's ready to play." Pruitt on this week's foe: "Through the first four games, this is probably the best Alabama offense I've ever seen since I've been alive."