On paper, the Third Saturday in October looks to be as big a mismatch as ever. Alabama and Tennessee are clearly going in opposite directions.

While the Crimson Tide are unbeaten and also the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation, the Volunteers are winless in SEC play and nowhere near the Top 25. These two rivals meet Saturday in arguably the conference’s most notable cross-division clash.

‘Bama coach Nick Saban has as much job security as anyone in college football — four national championships in a decade’s time will do that. UT coach Butch Jones, on the other hand, might be sitting on the hottest seat in America. Not only are the Vols sporting a disappointing 3-3 record, but they’ve looked bad assembling it.

That being said, Jones does have a breakout star in running back John Kelly, who leads the SEC with 802 yards from scrimmage.

“I think he’s a really dynamic player, probably the best running back we played against all year long,” Saban said Wednesday on the conference’s weekly coaches teleconference. “I think he’s one of the best running backs in the SEC. I think they do a great job of utilizing him, not only as a runner, but he’s an outstanding receiver as well. He’s probably the most productive offensive player that we’ve seen to this point, especially at his position.”

Even if Kelly’s average of 4.9 yards per carry isn’t overly impressive for a tailback at the collegiate level, he’s done so for a Tennessee team that’s 13th in the league in total offense and dead last in scoring offense.

Simply stated, he’s the lone reliable weapon for the Volunteers. Neither quarterback — Jarrett Guarantano replaced Quinten Dormady in Week 7 — has proven to be effective. Kelly has four times as many rushes as any other ball carrier on the club. He’s also the top pass catcher in Knoxville, which doesn’t say much about the receiving corps.

Jones will have to resist the temptation, as most coaches do, to ignore the rushing attack altogether when facing Alabama.

Kelly has a difficult task ahead of him, though. The Tide are first nationally in rushing defense, which is the norm in Tuscaloosa.

“I think you technically look at every team that you play, first of all, strategically, in terms of what they do,” Saban said. “Then you respect the personnel that they have doing it, and what you need to do to try to do the best job that you can of getting the best position to minimize their effectiveness.”

Making the switch from Dormady to Guarantano didn’t do much to dent the scoreboard, as UT was held out of the end zone in a 15-9 defeat at home to South Carolina this past Saturday. Jones has an awful habit of forgetting about Kelly near the goal line.

Jones will have to resist the temptation, as most coaches do, to ignore the rushing attack altogether when facing Alabama. Saban’s unit allows just 66.7 yards per game on the ground, plus the Vols only average 134.7 themselves — 11th in the SEC. Not to mention the fact that Guarantano averages a pitiful 4.5 yards per pass.

Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee has to find a way to run the ball consistently and successfully with Kelly (above). That’s easier said than done, of course.

“They’re very disruptive upfront,” Jones said. “They do a great job with their blitz patterns. Minkah Fitzpatrick is as a good a player as there is in the country, and they impact the quarterback. They impact the quarterback with tips and overthrows, and they’re also getting around the quarterback a lot.”

"I think Damien's a great player. I thought he was a great player for us last year. I think he got dinged up a little bit last year. I think this year he's stayed healthy, and hopefully he'll continue to be able to do that. I think he's a little more confident this year, and he's done a great job for us. I think he has improved." -- Nick Saban

When the Crimson Tide have possession, they feature five backs capable of starting at most programs in the country. Additionally, Jalen Hurts is a tuck-it-and-run threat in his own right at the QB position and averages 7.1 yards per attempt.

For whatever reason, leading rusher Damien Harris doesn’t get a lot of love from either media or fans when the conference’s best runners are discussed. Even coming off a 1,037-yard performance in 2016, much of the preseason hype revolved around teammate Bo Scarbrough. Incoming 5-star recruit Najee Harris was highly celebrated, as well.

Still, Harris has four fewer carries this season than Scarbrough (68 to 72) but almost twice as many yards (625 to 359).

“I think Damien’s a great player,” Saban said. “I thought he was a great player for us last year. I think he got dinged up a little bit last year. I think this year he’s stayed healthy, and hopefully he’ll continue to be able to do that. I think he’s a little more confident this year, and he’s done a great job for us. I think he has improved.”

It’s not like Harris came out of nowhere. He was a 5-star kid himself at Berea (Ky.) Madison County High School and had offers form the likes of Ohio State, Florida State, Oklahoma and USC. Why he continues to play in relative anonymity is a mystery.

“I think sometimes people can take great players for granted,” Jones said. “He truly is a great player. He’s averaging 9.2 yards per carry, nine touchdowns, but also starts on their punt-return unit. You look at the depth that they have at the running back position with Harris and Scarbrough and Harris, and all three of them complement each other.”

‘Bama has been a factory for halfbacks since Saban arrived in 2007 — from Glen Coffee to Mark Ingram to Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy to T.J. Yeldon to Derrick Henry. All of them were 1,000-yard rushers. All of them were drafted into the NFL. Harris deserves to be added to that list, even if there’s some unexplained hesitation to do so.

He may not have to carry as much of the burden as Kelly, but Harris will surely be an integral part of the game plan.