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Tennessee Athletics photo by Andrew Ferguson / Tennessee first-year football coach Josh Heupel was praised Wednesday by Alabama counterpart Nick Saban heading into this week's matchup in Tuscaloosa.

This time last year, Tennessee football coach Josh Heupel was at the University of Central Florida, and top Volunteers quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton were starting for Virginia Tech and Michigan, respectively.

Tennessee's leading rusher right now, Tiyon Evans, sat out last season at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, while top deep receiving threat JaVonta Payton was suiting up for Mike Leach at Mississippi State.

That's hardly how Nick Saban built things at Alabama more than a decade ago, when the NCAA's transfer portal would have seemed like something out of "Star Trek."

"They've done a good job of overhauling and getting some players in who can make an immediate impact, which you have an opportunity to do with players being able to transfer like they are now," Saban said Wednesday as his No. 4 Crimson Tide prepare to host the Vols. "They've done a really good job with that. They should certainly be credited for the job that they've done to kind of retool and getting players who can do well in their system.

"Both of their quarterbacks have played well when they've played. They've improved their skill level, and their runner is the best player on their offensive team in terms of consistent performance and production even though he's been injured a little bit lately. That's why they're one of the top-scoring teams in the conference."

Saban built Bama by adding talented recruit after talented recruit and developing them, with the 2008 signing class that included running back Mark Ingram, receiver Julio Jones and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus providing a foundation for what has been six national championship runs.

Tennessee is nowhere close to that zip code right now, but the Vols were 3-7 last season under Jeremy Pruitt and sustained more departures through the portal than any program nationally. Yet here they are, headed to Tuscaloosa with a 4-3 record that could easily be 6-1 were it not for a play or two against Pittsburgh and Ole Miss.

Saban used the term "retool." Does that mean "rebuild" will be used less in the future given the quicker-fix opportunities that will reside in the portal?

"Retool is probably just a part of what you do to rebuild," Saban said. "Josh has done a really good job of rebuilding in a short period of time and getting some players in there who can make a significant impact. They have certainly done that. They have a great system, and they do a great job on both sides of the ball.

"The way they play offense is really difficult to defend, and now they've got some really good players to execute it."

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Florida Athletics photo by Tim Casey / Florida football coach Dan Mullen is addressing a lot of issues this week in the open date following last Saturday's 49-42 loss at LSU that dropped the Gators to 4-3 with No. 1 Georgia looming in Jacksonville.

The 10 minutes Florida coach Dan Mullen had to spend on Wednesday's Southeastern Conference teleconference could not have ended soon enough for him. A sampling of the questions:

Have you reopened the quarterback competition?

What words of encouragement about the program's direction can you offer fans and recruits right now?

In the past, you have confirmed that Emory Jones is the starter. Is that still the case?

Have you made any defensive staff changes this week?

Todd Grantham's contract expires in January. Do you want him back next year?

_________

LSU coach Ed Orgeron now knows that he's out of his job at the end of this season.

Better then than now.

"I feel good about it," Orgeron said. "This is our team, and I wanted to finish out with it. My athletic director wanted me to finish out with it. We'll move forward, and the focus right now is on Ole Miss.

"Really, not much has changed."

 

Pasquali's Pix

Mississippi State at Vanderbilt: The Commodores came close last week, but their SEC losing streak has reached 17 games. Bulldogs 31, Commodores 16.

USC at Notre Dame: With Alabama losing at Texas A&M, the Fighting Irish now have the nation's longest winning streak against unranked opposition at 36. Irish 24, Trojans 13.

South Carolina at Texas A&M: The Aggies are 22-0 under Jimbo Fisher when leading after the first quarter. Aggies 38, Gamecocks 10.

Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Arkansas: The Razorbacks are playing an in-state team for the first time since 1944. Hogs 59, Golden Lions 6.

LSU at Ole Miss: The end zones at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium have been painted to read "Manning," either in honor of Eli Manning's jersey retirement or Arch Manning's recruiting visit. Rebels 34, Tigers 27.

Georgia Tech at Virginia: The Yellow Jackets have won just twice in their past 14 trips to Scott Stadium. Cavaliers 24, Yellow Jackets 19.

UTC at Samford: The Mocs have somehow scared an SEC opponent and defeated a top-10 foe this season before winning consecutive games. Mocs 23, Bulldogs 20.

Tennessee at Alabama: The only thing different about this year's Crimson Tide victory over the Vols is that it will occur on homecoming. Tide 41, Volunteers 14.

Other picks:

MTSU 42, Connecticut 21

Cincinnati 55, Navy 18

UCF 27, Memphis 22

Oklahoma 66, Kansas 9

Michigan 31, Northwestern 10

Clemson 29, Pittsburgh 26

Penn State 44, Illinois 13

Wake Forest 28, Army 24

Florida State 70, Massachusetts 15

Virginia Tech 23, Syracuse 17

Iowa State 24, Oklahoma State 23

Oregon 33, UCLA 28

Washington 41, Arizona 16

Louisville 38, Boston College 31

Ohio State 37, Indiana 20

N.C. State 19, Miami 14

Wisconsin 30, Purdue 27

Last week:

Winners — 18

Mustard containers — 7

Pasquali is 128-47 overall (73.1%) this season.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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