Alabama opened as a 16.5 point favorite over Tennessee. So I did what any self-respecting Tennessee fan would do when faced with this obstacle: I wagered my beard that Tennessee will cover that spread with Memphis radio host Chris Vernon, the man behind the cult classic video, Colonel Reb Is Crying. Given that I've been rocking the beard since 2002, I'm very confident in my bet, almost as confident that this will be a single-digit game that isn't decided until the fourth quarter. I'll explain why as I break down the game, but know this, right now Alabama fans are rolling their eyes and banging on their their talking typewriters -- as computers have yet to reach Alabama -- "Your an idiot," they're about to type in their magic invisible letters -- you know it as e-mail -- to me.
That's because Alabama fans are one of the rarest of all fan species, drenched in self-confidence even when their team isn't good, swimming in a sea of crimson arrogance when they are actually good. No matter the situation Alabama fans refuse to believe they will ever lose. Ever. In fact, let's call them what they are: The most confident fanbase on Earth.
Most fanbases greet the No. 1 ranking in the country with trepidation, seeing defeat lurking in unlikely corners. Not Alabama. They expect their team to squash all competition, including, if necessary, such lightweights as NFL champions. In fact, many Crimson Tide fans would argue that you can't be overly confident when you've won 99 consecutive national championships. (I'm citing the always reliable Paul Finebaum for that statistic.) And they have a point there. They have been successful.
But more successful than any fanbase in the history of American sports? I think not. Next week maybe I'll rank the most irrational fan bases out there. Kentucky basketball, the New York Yankees, and Notre Dame football all figure in the equation, but for the present moment none of that matters, Alabama is going to win.
Roll, Tide, Roll!
And before we get further rolling with the ClayNation game breakdown, let me be clear, I like Alabama fans. Their irrational optimism, the range of fashion choices made by the men, from Little Lord Fauntleroy to 55-year-old men dressed in double camo gear, snuff in the back pocket alongside a Brodie Croyle bobblehead, and an unshaven, bedraggled look l like to call, Tuscaloosa Sunrise.
I love them all. As Tiny Tim would say, God bless them each and every one. On to the breakdown.
1. Which Greg McElroy are we going to get in this game?
The one in the first five games who threw for nine touchdowns, no picks, and completed 68 percent of his passes or the guy from the past two games who has completed just 46 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions? In fact, McElroy's play has declined precipitously in every game since the 35-7 win over Arkansas on Sept. 26, when he was nearly perfect.
Is there something that defenses have noticed in preparing for McElroy, like they evidently have with Chris Todd at Auburn, or is this simply a function of McElroy not playing well?
2. At some point, if you're a male Alabama fan with hugely drooping Bama Bangs, shaking a red and white pompom, wearing a bowtie above khaki pants that are too tight, and sunglasses hanging on a cord around your neck, don't you have to look at yourself in the mirror and think, "My God, I am a huge clown. Tuscaloosa is the only place on Earth right now where I could walk into a bar without people believing I was dressed up for Halloween as the biggest tool in America."
3. Which Jonathan Crompton are we going to get?
Soon enough we'll know whether Crompton caught the Willie Martinez Flu -- unlike the regular flu it makes you play 250 percent better than you ever have before -- or whether Lane Kiffin has finally fixed the biggest head case in Tennessee since Elvis post-Priscilla.
Kiffin, come Saturday the most confident man in the state of Alabama who is not an Alabama fan, has gone so far as to suggest that Crompton, Crompton! (uttered by every UT fan in the same tone that Newman! was uttered by Seinfeld) deserves a look as a first-round pick based on the Georgia game.
I'm terrified that the Tennessee Titans are going to end up with Crompton and we'll never be apart.
At long last, Crompton put together a decent game against a decent opponent, but you can still draw a distinct line between Good Crompton and Bad Crompton. Regarding the former, in UT's three wins this season, Crompton has thrown 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. In the three losses? Two touchdowns and six interceptions.
Which one will we get against 'Bama? I have no clue.
Neither does Crompton.
4. Why do fans of both teams insist on wearing camouflage college gear?
Hypothesis: Generally speaking deer do not care who the people trying to kill them root for.
So who is this apparel designed for? People who are trying to disguise who they are rooting for? People who can't stomach the thought of being in the woods and not being able to support the team? Isn't it borderline taunting for Bambi's final image as she gives up the deer ghost to be a power T or a crimson A?
I'm doing a whole column on this at some point. But come Saturday these people will be everywhere.
5. Is Monte Kiffin truly going to dominate pro-style offenses this season or will his defense fade down the stretch?
Against Georgia last week, in his first chance to play a non-spread offense in a month, Monte Kiffin made Georgia look like a junior varsity high school team. They didn't get inside the UT 30 for the entire game. Can he continue that against Alabama? Probably not.
But can he devise a gameplan that limits Julio Jones while still stopping Bama's rushing attack? Certainly.
Will it happen? Tune in.
6. Why won't 'Bama let UT wear orange? Why do people care what color the team wears?
In case you missed it, UT requested to wear their orange jerseys on the road and Alabama rejected the idea.
Let me be clear on this, caring what color uniform your team wears makes you a girl.
Period. (Pun intended.)
There are no exceptions.
Some Tennessee fans have been obsessed with whether or not we're going to wear black jerseys for months. I can't think of anything dumber. Same with an entire stadium doing an (insert color here)-out. If you've ever had a conversation about the color your team is going to wear with a male friend, you need new friends.
7. Which team can get their running attack established?
Mark Ingram has been the warhorse for Alabama. He's currently leading the SEC in rushing yardage. meanwhile Tennessee's Montario Hardesty is in fourth place. Both men are in the top 12 in the country. What's more, both teams boast a standout freshman backup -- Trent Richardson for 'Bama and Bryce Brown for Tennessee.
Given that there are questions at quarterback for both teams, if either squad can establish a consistent running game, look for that team to control the outcome. Given that Tennessee's rush defense is ranked 30th in the country, and Bama is ranked third, odds would favor the Crimson Tide in this battle.
Charlie Neibergall, AP
Daily News Journal / AP
8. What's the psychology of Alabama's new No. 1 ranking likely to be?
Alabama has not played against Tennessee as the No. 1 team in the country since, wait for it, 1980.
Were you as shocked by this as I was? And Alabama has played Tennessee as the No. 1 team in the country only twice all-time.
Alabama fans are shocked right now as well because they believe that Alabama has been the default top-ranked team in America for the past 67 years. (The streak was broken when World War II broke out and every Alabama football player was simultaneously named a General.)
In fact, Tennessee will play the No. 1 team in the country twice this season for the first time in the history of Tennessee football. And they've only played the top team in the AP poll 8 times since 1959.
I say all that for this for one reason, playing the top team in the country is a big deal that doesn't happen very often. But I'm not sure Tennessee and Lane Kiffin are going to play like it is a big deal because they've already played Florida on the road. Which is a pretty big benefit because I think it eliminates the jaw-dropping, scared to death factor. Meanwhile, I think Alabama will come out a bit uptight with the new ranking.
I could be wrong, but I think 'Bama will make a few mistakes early that keep this game close for the first two quarters. After that, we'll see. But I believe the psychology of being No. 1 will have an impact.
9. Can Tennessee keep Alabama from scoring on special teams?
The UT staff has to be having legitimate talks right now about kicking the ball straight up into the air to be fielded by the upbacks at the 35 and punting the ball out-of-bounds on every punt.
Two weeks ago Georgia scored on a touchdown on a kickoff return. The same thing happened against Ohio a month ago. Meanwhile Auburn gouged the Vols all night with big returns. Adding it all up, wait for this, Tennessee is 118 out of 120 teams in kickoff coverage.
Stop laughing Alabama fans, you're 102. And you've also had two kickoffs returned for touchdowns against you.
I have a proposition, could both teams just reach a gentleman's agreement to start each drive on the 30?
10. What of the bye week?
Alabama is coming off consecutive big games, a road contest at Ole Miss that had been hyped for months and a Homecoming tilt against South Carolina. Tennessee, on the other hand, has been resting up and preparing for Alabama.
If Tennessee's coaching staff is as good as advertised, that means there should be some wrinkles that Alabama won't be expecting. So this week represents another great laboratory to analyze Tennessee's first-year staff.
As if that weren't enough, has anyone else noticed how quiet Lane Kiffin has been this week? It's the antithesis of how he prepared for Florida. As if that weren't enough, compared to the verbal grenades that Kiffin has lobbed at Florida, he's been very quiet about the Crimson Tide. By design or not, I think we've set up the potential for a stealth attack.
11. Whither the beard?
Come Saturday by 7 CT, I may very well be intentionally clean-shaven for the first time since 2002. But I don't think I will.
This game is going to be epic, and it's going to be tight until the fourth quarter. I can't wait to see it in person. But regardless, come Saturday, only one thing is certain -- every Alabama fan thinks they're going to win 50-0.
Clay Travis is the author of three books. His latest, "On Rocky Top: A Front Row Seat to The End of an Era" chronicles the 2008 Tennessee football season and is on sale now.