Florida-Alabama Preview

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.

Kentucky