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Tennessee and Alabama set for historic meeting

Tennessee and Alabama have played a lot of important games through the years. Dating back to 1901, the Third Saturday in October is one of the South’s oldest and most prestigious football rivalries. But the 105th meeting between the two schools — scheduled to kick off at 3:30 pm Saturday in Knoxville — will be historic.

Never before in the 104 meetings that preceded this one were both the Volunteers and the Crimson Tide been ranked as highly as they will be when they meet at Neyland Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Alabama slipped two spots in the latest Associated Press poll after struggling to beat Texas A&M, but is still ranked No. 3 in the nation. Tennessee climbed two spots after dominating No. 25 LSU, and is ranked No. 6 in the nation.

This is the highest Tennessee has been ranked since 2005, when the Vols were No. 5 before losing to No. 6 Florida, 16-7, in The Swamp. The Vols opened the 2005 season ranked No. 3.

When the two teams met during that 2005 season, Alabama was ranked No. 5 and Tennessee was ranked No. 17. 

Tennessee and Alabama have met several times over the years with both ranked in the Top 10 nationally — including as recently as 2016, when Alabama was No. 1 and Tennessee was No. 9 — but Saturday’s meeting will be the first ever with both teams ranked sixth or higher.

Alabama has been ranked as high as No. 1 coming into its game against Tennessee. That’s actually happened on a number of occasions through the years, including seven times during the Tide’s current 15-game winning streak in the series. The first time it happened was in 1979, when Bear Bryant’s No. 1 Alabama team defeated Johnny Majors’ No. 18 Tennessee, 27-17.

Tennessee, on the other hand, has been ranked as high as No. 2 going into the rivalry game. That happened in 1951, when No. 2 Tennessee defeated Alabama 27-13 during General Robert Neyland’s final season as head coach.

Prior to this season, the closest Alabama and Tennessee came to both being ranked in the Top 6 nationally when they met was in 1967. That year, No. 7 Tennessee defeated No. 6 Alabama 24-13 in Birmingham. 

Other Top 10 meetings between the two teams through the years included 1999, when No. 5 Tennessee defeated No. 10 Alabama 21-7; 1996, when No. 6 Tennessee defeated No. 7 Alabama 20-13; 1993, when No. 2 Alabama and No. 10 Tennessee played to a 17-17 tie, a game that was later forfeited to the Vols; 1989, when No. 10 Alabama defeated No. 6 Tennessee 47-30; 1973, when No. 2 Alabama defeated No. 10 Tennessee 42-21; 1972, when No. 3 Alabama defeated No. 10 Tennessee 17-10; 1946, when No. 9 Tennessee defeated No. 7 Alabama 12-0; and 1939, when No. 5 Tennessee defeated No. 8 Alabama 21-0.

As for years when Tennessee has upset a higher-ranked Alabama team, that happened in 1985, 1983, 1982, 1967, 1960, 1952 and 1946.

The last time both teams were undefeated going into the game was 1989.

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