The buzz is back


Published: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 4:04 a.m.
In Tuscaloosa, going out to dinner has taken on a whole new meaning for Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle.
"You can't go out to eat without having your picture taken 15 or 20 times or signing four or five footballs," he said. "Anywhere you go, it's like that. It's pretty electric right now."
In Gainesville, there is a similar buzz. It's even cool to be a football player on the Florida campus again.
"It's different with the student body," senior Florida defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "Everybody knows who you are now. They all say hello. It wasn't like that last year. It's kind of shocking when you see it."
Things certainly have changed at Alabama and Florida - two proud and tradition-rich programs that have been wandering in the football wilderness the past few years.
The Tide have endured NCAA probation and a coaching scandal.
The Gators have had to get past the post-Spurrier era, which saw them average five losses a season for three years under Ron Zook.
Now, in 2005, these two schools have re-emerged as SEC contenders. They're back. They're saying that not so much in words, but by performance on the field.
Alabama is 4-0. Florida is 4-0. The Tide is 15th in the nation, while the Gators are back in the top five at No. 5.
Florida and Alabama haven't been in this stratosphere, together, since they played for the conference title in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta in 1999.
Croyle, still in high school at the time, was at that game.
"I remember it was one of the better moments in Alabama's recent history (with the Tide winning 34-7). It was fun being a part of it," Croyle said. "At that point, both schools were ranked in the top 10.
"It's been a roller-coaster ride for both programs the last couple of years. It's good to see both of us getting out of it and getting the programs back to where they need to be and where they're expected to be."
Under new coach Urban Meyer, the Gators already have a signature win this season - a 17-6 victory over division rival Tennessee that moved UF back into a place of prominence in the SEC and nation.
Some are already starting to wonder if the Gators have recaptured that long-lost swagger they carried under Spurrier.
"I think so," Mincey said. "I honestly think so. I see the confidence. When we go to practice, there's confidence everywhere, from the long snapper to the kick returner. Everyone is confident in what they're doing and it's starting to grow more and more.
"It's not a cocky sense of confidence. We've worked extra hard and we're confident we can get the job done."
Meyer and senior center Mike Degory said it's far too early to start talking about swagger.
"It's coming," Degory said. "It comes with a lot of walking. I don't think we've walked yet. We're still taking steps. Once we start walking, that's when it will come back."
Said Meyer: "I don't even know what a swagger is. Did we get The Swamp back? No, we won one game (against UT). We're just trying to get third down-and-6 and trying to stop people."
While Meyer tries to temper some of the enthusiasm over UF's 4-0 start, the Tide seem to be letting enthusiasm and expectations bound off the chart.
Throughout the offseason, Tennessee was the game that drove the Gators. For Alabama, it has been today's matchup with Florida.
In two-plus seasons under Mike Shula, the Tide are 1-7 against ranked teams and Alabama has never beaten a top-five team at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Obviously, a victory today would be huge, possibly a program turner.
"It would solidify we're back on the right track at Alabama," Croyle said. "Alabama football is getting back to where it needs to be. We all realize that. We're trying to think of this as just another game. But there isn't anyone on this team who isn't excited about it.
"We've been looking forward to this game since the summer. It's finally here. It's time to see what we're made of. There's a buzz going around here. We're at that step. If we can make this step, we've got a chance to take this thing as far as we want to take it."
For Alabama and Florida, the goal is Atlanta, but neither team has been there in a while (Alabama in 1999, UF in 2000).
"This is the kind of game you always dream of playing in," Croyle said. "This is why you come to Alabama; this is why you go to Florida. These are the games you want to play in.
"These are two of the more tradition-rich programs in the SEC and the nation. It's going to be a fun game. It's going to be a dog fight."
Robbie Andreu can be reached at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com

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