The Third Saturday in October is actually relevant again. Tennessee has joined Alabama in winning enough games that they could meet again in the inaugural First Saturday in December at the SEC Championship Game. (This assumes the game doesn't get bumped to the Second Saturday in December depending on when/if LSU-Florida gets played.)

The bottom line: There's some juice again to Alabama-Tennessee, even though the Crimson Tide have won nine straight games in the series. Not too long ago, Alabama-Tennessee looked to possibly be on the chopping block annually in order to provide more balanced SEC schedules.

It's good to play this game every year. But let's not get carried away. Alabama coach Nick Saban started a fascinating discussion about the rivalry on his radio show two weeks ago when he said this:

"I think you get very quickly a feel for what your own players on your own team, even that were here before you came here, what's important to them. And it was very obvious to me that the Tennessee game was always the biggest game. It was always the biggest game for us. That's no disrespect to Auburn or the great Iron Bowl rivalries. But to our players and a lot of our fans, the Tennessee game, because of the tradition of the game, [is important], so it didn't take long to figure that out."

Say what? Alabama considers Tennessee a bigger rival than Auburn?

This is the first time Alabama and Tennessee have met as ranked opponents since 2005. Alabama and Auburn played as top-10 teams in 2010 and 2013. Alabama and LSU have played five times as top-10 teams since Saban arrived in 2007.

To get a feel for where Alabama stands on this, I talked to three generations of people connected to Crimson Tide football: Kirk McNair, who was an associate sports information director at Alabama under Bear Bryant and now is editor of Bama Magazine; Jay Barker, Alabama's national championship quarterback in 1992 who hosts a radio show at WJOX in Birmingham; and Greg McElroy, Alabama's national championship quarterback in 2009 who is now an ESPN analyst.

So does Alabama actually believe Tennessee is its biggest rival?

"I think if you live in Alabama, which is where the largest part of the fan base is, I would think it's Auburn," McNair said. "I think from a historical perspective, it's Tennessee."

Why Tennessee for older fans? This dates back to Bryant and Gen. Robert Neyland and old-time football that made the Third Saturday in October so special for so long

Bryant played at Alabama from 1933-35. The Iron Bowl series wasn't played for 41 years during that period because of tensions between Alabama and Auburn.

"Coach Bryant was just obsessed with Tennessee," McNair said. "That went back to his playing days when it was such a big game. Coaching at Kentucky, he had the best teams they had there but couldn't get over the hump against Tennessee. He had never played against Auburn, so Tennessee became the biggest game to him. He said later in life he got the team too tight for the Tennessee game."

To this day, Alabama players light up cigars and smoke them in the locker room after they beat Tennessee. Technically, it's an NCAA violation, but Alabama annually accepts it to keep up the tradition. Reports credit former Alabama head trainer Jim Goostree with starting the tradition in the 1950s or 1960s.

"I doubt if many players even smoked it in the 1970s," McNair said. "Nobody knew about it. I know Coach Bryant wouldn't have. He absolutely hated the smell of the cigar."

Alabama and Tennessee are still first and second in all-time SEC championships (Alabama 25, Tennessee 13). But since Tennessee's last SEC title in 1998, Alabama has won five SEC championships, LSU has four, and Auburn and Florida each have three.

Barker views Auburn as Alabama's biggest rival because it's "brother vs. brother" in the same state.

"My generation coming up is probably a little bit different because that's when Coach [Pat] Dye got to Auburn," Barker said. "Now I'm 10, 11, 12 years old, and I see this huge transformation and cultural changes there because Auburn is winning most of the games and there's a Heisman Trophy winner in Bo Jackson. Then the SEC divides into divisions and that probably hurt the Alabama-Tennessee rivalry more than it used to because now Tennessee is worried about Florida and winning the East. I hated that because it was such a great rivalry. That's why I hoped Tennessee would have come in here undefeated to ramp up the excitement."

McElroy, who grew up in Texas, considered Auburn his biggest rival but said it varied for different Alabama players.

"It's kind of generational," McElroy said. "A lot of the older Alabama fans view Tennessee as the sole rival to a certain extent. Obviously, some of the guys my age, having followed college football extensively really starting around 2000, Auburn beat us six years in a row (under Tommy Tuberville) so that was the biggest rival to me. I think the players coming up now might view LSU as the biggest rival because of the competitiveness of the game. It depends on what era you really started following the sport."

Perhaps Saban's comments were meant to appeal to older generations of Alabama fans.

Maybe Saban was thinking of the offseason chatter by incoming Tennessee defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo, who said in May, "I know we're going to beat Alabama."

Or perhaps Saban was speaking to the current in-house history between Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and Tennessee, where Kiffin ingloriously coached for one season.

Still, for a rivalry to truly be a rivalry, doesn't the other team need to win at some point? Bryant won 11 straight games over Tennessee from 1971-81 by an average of 16.4 points. Saban has won nine in a row over the Vols by 21.4 points.

Can a team really be your top rival after a decade of dominance?

"I also think a lot of Alabama fans will claim Tennessee is the biggest rival just to irritate Auburn fans," McNair said. "I see a lot of Auburn fans say, 'Oh, no, Alabama isn't our biggest rival, Georgia is.'"

If you're nagging your neighbors that you're not a rival, that's probably a good sign about who most Alabama fans truly view as their top rival.

Alabama-Tennessee matters again. But it's still not the Iron Bowl.