Published November 20, 2014
This Florida-Alabama game is not all or nothing, title shot or title shutout.
None of the possibilities or dreams really go away if the top-ranked Crimson Tide or seventh-ranked Gators lose Saturday in the rematch from the last two Southeastern Conference championship games. Just a midseason setback, especially since they don't even play in the same division.
Ah, who are we kidding? This is a rivalry game not because of long history but because of the recent variety. It matches the SEC's two dominant teams over the last few years, so does it really matter if the calendar is just creeping into October?
"It's definitely one of the most anticipated games of my career," Florida defensive end Justin Trattou said on Monday. "It's definitely one of the most anticipated games in the country. I'm real excited to get into it."
Still, the loser won't be left in tears this time, unlike the December meetings. Florida won the SEC in 2008 and Alabama won it last season. Both went on to win the national championship.
"Ever since that game, it's unexplainable. I wanted it back so bad," Florida linebacker Brandon Hicks said of last December's meeting. "That game hurt so bad because we felt we were good enough, we had the team to win. But we didn't execute everything that we were supposed to and we took it on ourselves that our preparation wasn't right."
Added center Mike Pouncey: "Any loss hurts, but when you lose for a championship, it's more devastating."
This time there could very well be Florida-Alabama II in a couple of months at the Georgia Dome.
"I just remember the year they beat us," Tide tailback Mark Ingram said. "All we could think about for an entire year was getting back to that game and playing them again. I'm sure they have the same type of attitude since we beat them. They don't have to wait until the SEC championship. We have them halfway through the season. It's going to be a real intense game."
Gators coach Urban Meyer said his staff even discussed having a week in training camp devoted to Alabama "until I looked on the film and I saw how poor we were. To start worrying about Alabama, we better just figure out a way to catch the ball, put it away and not fumble."
Both teams are 4-0. Florida has played two league games and Alabama one, last weekend at No. 15 Arkansas.
Recent history suggests a one-loss SEC champion can still play for a national championship. The Gators have done it twice under Meyer. This is a league with five teams ranked in the top 15, after all.
And the loser would still control its own destiny in the race to Atlanta's league title game.
It's the fifth rematch of an SEC championship game in the subsequent regular season. The first four have been splits.
Alabama and Florida also played twice in 1999. The Tide beat the Gators both times, 40-39 in overtime during the regular season and 34-7 in the title game.
But Florida has won two of the last four national titles and Alabama one. Maybe this one's about playing catch-up and/or sustaining supremacy.
"They probably have a record of dominance more than any other team in the league over what they've done the last few years," Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Alabama has won 28 consecutive regular season games, Florida 24.
"I definitely don't want to lose," Tide safety Robert Lester said, "don't want to experience it."
In the SEC title games, Florida dominated the fourth quarter in 2008 for a 31-20 win. Last season, Alabama rolled 32-13.
Meyer and the Gators watched film from that game Monday morning. What he couldn't review was the "rock-star" atmosphere that surrounded the team outside the cloistered practices.
"We would walk out to practice and it would take us a half-hour to get to practice and a half-hour back because we were signing and because of this and we would go on the road and it would be a Ringling Bros. three-ring circus," Meyer said. "If it distracts a 46-year-old guy, I'd imagine it distracts 20-, 18-, 19-year-olds. I know it did. It was just rock-star status. It happens when you have success. We learned a lot of lessons; I learned a lot of lessons.
"I'm not sure the answers, but I hope it happens again. It means you're pretty good."
This game hardly has the history of Alabama-Auburn or Florida-Tennessee. This is the 36th meeting, but seven of those have come in the SEC championship game.
"You have to get up for them," Gators quarterback John Brantley said. "You always want to prepare much harder, much better for rivals and that's what you have to do against Alabama, so I definitely consider them becoming a rival."
Saban isn't veering from his normal approach before a game, any game. It's Alabama's second straight top-10 clash after all, following a 24-20 survival game at Arkansas.
"We want to get ready to play our best football every game that we play," Saban said. "It's a standard that we want to play to here. It doesn't really matter — the numbers on the back of the jerseys change and the numbers change, but the standard never does. That's a very challenging thing to get from a consistency standpoint but it's certainly what we want for our team."
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to this report.