SEC fans usually pull for SEC teams when a national championship is on the line. And since the upcoming national championship game involves No. 1 Notre Dame, the choice is even easier.
But if Tennessee fans delve deeper into the Alabama-Notre Dame match-up, things could get complicated — and not just because they're probably weary of their longtime rival enjoying such prominence.
This Notre Dame team reminds me of Tennessee's 1998 national championship team. The most obvious similarity: Clutch play.
The Vols beat Syracuse and Arkansas on their last drives. They beat Florida in overtime. They rallied to beat Mississippi State in the fourth quarter of the SEC championship game. They won six games by 10 or fewer points.
This season, Notre Dame needed overtime to beat Stanford. It needed three overtimes to beat Pittsburgh. It has won six games by nine points or fewer.
Both teams also benefited from the misfortune of others.
The Vols overtook Arkansas thanks to a fumble by Razorbacks quarterback Clint Stoerner, who inexplicably tried to use the football to brace his fall. There was nothing so mystifying with Notre Dame's good luck: A Pittsburgh kicker simply missed a chip-shot field goal that would have won the game.
When Tennessee defeated Florida State in the national championship game, the Seminoles were down to their third-string quarterback, after losing two quarterbacks to injury. When Notre Dame defeated Southern California in its last game of the regular season, the Trojans were playing without All-American quarterback Matt Barkley, who suffered a shoulder injury a week earlier.
Even the teams' statistics are similar.
UT had four players rush for 287 yards or more, and its leading rusher had 970. Notre Dame has four players with 305 or more yards rushing, and its leading rusher has 880.
UT quarterback Tee Martin completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,164 yards and rushed for 287 yards. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards and has rushed for 305.
Both teams had exceptional defenses, led by a star middle linebacker.
UT's Al Wilson forced five fumbles, recovered two fumbles, had six tackles for loss and one interception. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o has seven interceptions, two recovered fumbles and five and a half tackles for loss.
The teams have something else in common: confidence.
UT played as though it never expected to lose, even as an underdog in the national championship game. Notre Dame plays the same way.