OK, Tennessee … here we go.

This is your chance to prove that you are a legitimate national championship contender.

This is your time to show the country that the Tennessee Volunteers of old are just that … a program that has moved past the dysfunction of the past 15 years and now has a shot to make the College Football Playoff.

Tennessee vs. Alabama can’t get much bigger.

Yes, we know that Tennessee hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2006, back when Phillip Fulmer was head coach, Erik Ainge was quarterback and, most importantly, Nick Saban was not the Alabama head coach.

But this is the best football team that Tennessee has had in the time of Saban, and the Vols finally have a head coach in Josh Heupel who won’t be scared to match up against Alabama.

Before you start talking about that 2009 Tennessee-Alabama game, let’s remember that Lane Kiffin could have tried to move the football a bit more in the final minute. Instead, the game’s final result came down to the shaky quad of Daniel Lincoln.

His boot was blocked, and the Tide won on their way to a national title.

Don’t try to talk to me about the 2015 game, when Tennessee led 14-13 with a few minutes left. The Tide then drove down the field, Derrick Henry ran for a touchdown and Volunteers hearts were broken. Alabama also won the national title that year.

In 2019 in Tuscaloosa, the Vols had a chance to make it a 1-score game midway through the 4th quarter before Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano went rouge, fumbled at the goal line and … well, does anything good happen when you fumble at the goal line?

Not often.

The Tide ended up winning that game, 35-13.

Traditionally, the Tennessee-Alabama series has been a streaky one, but not to this extent. Alabama has won 15 in a row, and as we have detailed there have only been scattered occurrences in which Tennessee has had a realistic chance to win the game.

Guess what?

In 2022, Tennessee has a terrific chance to win this game.

The best team doesn’t always win in football. Rather, it is the team playing its best football when the matchup takes place.

At this point in the season it’s not easy to find a team playing better football than Tennessee. The Vols are coming off a 40-13 dismantling of LSU, their 1st win over the Tigers in 6 tries. This game was never in serious doubt. The Vols were the better team in all 3 phases despite playing without Cedric Tillman, their best receiver, who is still recovering from injury.

As for Alabama, the Tide are coming off a very shaky performance against Texas A&M. The Tide were a 24-point favorite yet needed some awful Aggies play-calling to stay undefeated. Alabama’s injured quarterback, Bryce Young, didn’t play in the game, and the Tide missed his presence.

Alabama turned the football over 4 times and missed 2 field goals, yet it still won behind backup quarterback Jalen Milroe.

This Saturday afternoon, the Vols get the Tide inside Neyland Stadium. Last season in Tuscaloosa, Tennessee kept it a 1-score game before finally running out of steam in the 4th quarter. But that Vols team was woefully undermanned and had no significant depth, especially on defense.

The current Tennessee team has talent all over the field. The Vols are aggressive on offense, opportunistic on defense and surprisingly good on special teams. A group that was ranked outside the Top 25 is now allowing itself to dream about playing games that really matter in January.

Tennessee and Alabama will both be undefeated when they face off in Knoxville. Talent-wise, the Tide should win the game, even if Young does not play.

But for the first time in a long time, the Vols won’t go into this game thinking the worst.