'Bama-Florida: Waiting to rematch
The game itself, however, isn't for another month and the Tide and Gators have plenty of important work to do before they meet at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 5.
The third-ranked Crimson Tide joined the top-ranked Gators in the SEC championship game after outlasting No. 9 LSU 24-15 on Saturday, erasing any season-ending drama in the league except whether its two powerhouses can remain perfect.
Florida (9-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) had already secured its invitation before Saturday's 27-3 victory over Vanderbilt, the Gators' 19th consecutive win.
Florida and Alabama (9-0, 6-0) have seemed on a collision course for a rematch since the Gators' SEC championship game win over the Tide last season.
Hardly anybody had expected the Tide to be in that position entering the 2008 season. Winning the SEC West was expected for this Alabama team.
Florida knows that feeling in the East.
"I think this team had a totally different challenge from last year's team," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I'm proud of the way they managed and handled it. They have to be good because they want to be good.
"Last year's team had a different motive. They wanted to improve. I think there's a huge difference in that. These guys showed a maturity and consistency in getting to where they are now."
The teams haven't quite steamrolled through the SEC, especially offensively. LSU (7-2, 4-2) took a 15-10 lead into the fourth quarter against 'Bama before Julio Jones caught a 73-yard touchdown pass from Greg McElroy, Trent Richardson ran in the 2-point attempt and Leigh Tiffin booted field goals of 20 and 40 yards.
Before that was a 12-10 win over Tennessee when Terrence Cody blocked two field goals in the fourth quarter. That made the South Carolina game seem like a breeze. But even then, Alabama scored a late touchdown to remove the drama in a 20-6 win.
Florida's offense has moved in fits and starts most of the season, and it was more of the same against the Commodores. Tim Tebow was sacked four times, and two of the offense's three touchdowns followed Vandy miscues deep in its own territory.
Mackenzi Adams threw an interception that led to Jeff Demps' 25-yard TD run on a fourth-and-1 play, and punter Brett Upson mistakenly touched his knee to the ground fielding a low snap that set up Tebow's lone TD pass - an 8-yarder to David Nelson on third-and-4 that slipped through Riley Cooper's fingers.
Florida finished with 375 yards, 124 of them came in the fourth quarter.
The defense picked up the slack by not allowing a touchdown for the fifth time this season, even without suspended linebacker Brandon Spikes.
But post-game questions centered around the team's offensive struggles. The Gators have scored 30 points in just two of seven SEC games.
"We just didn't have the big-play production," Gators coach Urban Meyer said. "We had four sacks and we didn't have any home run shots. It's always a concern. You're probably concerned with something every game you play. We have to get some production out of the offense, a little more production. We're working at it."
No rush. You've got a few weeks, coach. Only the struggling Gamecocks, Florida International and Florida State stand in the way of Florida's perfect regular season.
The Tide needs wins over Mississippi State, Chattanooga and Auburn - all of whom figure to be sizable underdogs - to complete a second straight perfect regular season.
That would almost certainly leave Alabama with a national title shot in Pasadena, Calif., if Saban's team can manage to beat the Gators this time.
"That was a goal we had," tailback Mark Ingram said of winning the West. "Hopefully we'll get to Pasadena as well."
Saban wasn't particularly inclined to savor the SEC West title quite yet with a team that has bigger ambitions, citing his 24-hour rule for celebrating wins.
"We really have a lot of games to play," Saban said.
The way the Alabama and Florida defenses are playing, a repeat of last year's 31-20 Florida win seems unlikely. Both are among the top four in the nation.
The kickers have been busier than either team would like, too. Alabama's Leigh Tiffin leads the nation in field goals per game (2.56) while Florida's Caleb Sturgis is fifth at 1.89.
"A few times in the red zone we left with three points," Gators receiver David Nelson said. "That's just devastating to the offense. You have a good drive going down the field, get in the red zone and leave with a field goal. We will take three points any time we can get them, but at the same time, we feel like we should score touchdowns on each drive."
Nevertheless, both teams have a shot at moving to 10-0.
"That's the best thing about 9-0," Meyer said.