Tennessee ended one streak Saturday. It can end another one a week later.
The Vols had lost 19 consecutive games against nationally ranked teams before upsetting South Carolina 23-21 at Neyland Stadium.
Now, they have a chance to end the Alabama streak.
That’s not a reference to Alabama’s six-game winning streak in the series — just the last three seasons.
In each of those seasons, Alabama beat the Vols by 31 points.
The Tennessee-Alabama series has been marked by streaks. But the once great rivalry, which will be renewed Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., has never had a streak like this one.
Let’s put it in historical context.
When UT won six consecutive games in the series (1995 through 2001), it never won by more than 27 points.
From 1971 through 1981, Alabama beat the Vols 11 consecutive times. Its biggest margin of victory: 27 points.
From 1986 through 1994, Alabama went 8-0-1 against UT. It biggest margin of victory: 26 points.
Alabama vs. Tennessee has never been such a mismatch, whether you’re judging by the scoreboard or the final records.
Alabama is 35-5 the past three seasons. UT is 16-21.
The Tide has two more national championships than Tennessee has bowl victories in that span.
In fact, if you take just the past three seasons, UT qualifies as the easiest opponent on Alabama’s SEC schedule.
The Tide might have rung up 52 points on Arkansas or Ole Miss. But other than Tennessee, it hasn’t beaten any of its annual opponents by at least 31 points in three consecutive seasons.
However, the streak is obviously in jeopardy. Just when you thought it was time for Alabama to start scheduling UT for homecoming, the Vols have become a respectable opponent.
First, the Vols took sixth-ranked Georgia into overtime before losing by three points. Two weeks later, they registered their most impressive victory in four years by knocking off 11th-ranked South Carolina.
They have played so well the past two games, their more courageous fans probably aren’t terrified of the trip to Tuscaloosa, which can be a grind even when Tennessee wins.
You can lose a filling on the jarring drive down I-59. And the post-game drive back to Birmingham is even worse. If you know a shortcut, you might make it in three hours.
And for what? To see the Vols lose by 31 points?
All the Vols have accomplished the past three seasons against Alabama is make coach Nick Saban feel uncomfortable.
He makes an effort each week to extol the virtues of an upcoming opponent. But what was he going to say about the Vols in past seasons?
Maybe something like: “Our second-team offense was hard-pressed to score that final touchdown last year.”
Or: “When I watch them on video, I just don’t see how we can beat them by more than 30 points.”
This week will be different. The Vols have given him something to work with.
He can cast them as a slow-starting team that has become top-25 caliber. He also can remind them that in a national championship race with so many candidates still unbeaten, the Tide can’t afford a single slipup.
UT also has plenty of incentive, though. This team could be remembered as the one that ended the streak against Alabama.
And all it has to do is come within 30 points.