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Why the Alabama-Tennessee series could shift, per Vols C Cooper Mays

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The Alabama-Tennessee rivalry is a storied one, albeit a bit one sided in recent years. Alabama has been a difficult foe especially the last 17 seasons – the seasons the Crimson Tide were coached by the legendary Nick Saban. 

The Vols were able to come out victorious in just ONE meeting with the Tide under Saban. That win still resonates.

As expected, the Crimson Tide were a 9-point favorite against the Vols in October of 2022. Tennessee hadn’t beat Alabama in the 15 seasons prior. In his song, “Tennessee Fan”, Knoxville native Morgan Wallen sang about the rivalry with Alabama “They beat us every damn year… It’s been a minute since we pulled out a win…” Not that year. A field goal as time was running out was the deciding factor as Tennessee beat Alabama 52-49. One player that vividly remembers the 2022 win is OL Cooper Mays. 

What does beating a high-caliber team like Alabama mean for a player, especially with Saban on the sidelines?

 “It’s definitely something that we will be able to tell stories about,”  Mays said. “So, when you have kids and when you’re talking to your friends about old time stuff, that’s a pretty good feather to have in your hat.” 

The Vols almost had another feather in their cap last season. They led the Crimson Tide 20-7 in Tuscaloosa before a second-half slide led to a 34-20 Bama win.

With Saban now retired as coach of the Tide, does the rivalry change? Can Alabama still be a top contender with a new coach? Can they still recruit the nation’s top talent without a coach who finished with an overall record of 206-29? 

“I’m not really sure,” Mays pondered as he enters his final season of eligibility. “I know one thing, I’ll be gone before it changes.

“You never know how things are going to shake out, especially in this day and age of college football with NIL and everything. The momentum has kind of swayed a little bit. I think there were only a few college football coaches that can probably still say that they have a big time effect on recruiting. 

“I think most of it’s to do with NIL nowadays. So, I think Saban was one of the last few guys that could kind of sway people to his school alone.” 

Mays is probably right. Since Nick Saban announced his retirement, at least six current players have entered the transfer portal and seven top prospects decommitted from Alabama. High school standout receiver Ryan Williams only waited a few hours after the news to rescind his decision to play in Tuscaloosa.  

Mays has one more shot to beat his rival this year. Even without Saban at the helm, it will be a challenge Tennessee should not take lightly. A win against Alabama will surely be an important achievement, even with a different coach. 

Another win and Wallen will need to re-record his song and change the lyrics to “They beat us ALMOST every damn year…” 

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