This is the big one — Gators, Tide tangle again


Published: Friday, October 1, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 at 5:04 p.m.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Gator cornerback Jeremy Brown looks at Alabama and sees ... well, Florida.

"It's like looking in the mirror," Brown said earlier this week. "They have everything we have. They're a great team, they're well-coached and their players are very talented."

Florida and Alabama have established themselves as the dominant teams in the SEC over the past several seasons — and they do mirror each other in many ways.

The two teams won the last two national championships — Florida in 2008; Alabama in 2009 — and three of the last four (UF in 2006).

Both programs have what are considered elite coaches (Urban Meyer and Nick Saban).

Both programs are 30-2 over the past three seasons, with the only regular-season loss by either team being the Ole Miss upset of Florida in 2008.

Both programs annually sign top-five recruiting classes and churn out NFL talent.

"Right now, I think Florida and Alabama are the top two football programs in the nation," Brown said. "You always hear about the Gators and Alabama. We both want to be considered that top program. Every time we play each other from here on out, it's going to be, 'Who's No. 1?' It's always a great game!"

Saturday night's game features No. 1 (Alabama) vs. No. 7 (Florida). This one isn't for a championship (like the past two have been), but it has a championship game feel about it, even though the Tide is more than a touchdown favorite. And, who knows, maybe the teams will hook up again in Atlanta at the end of the season for what would be the rubber-match championship game.

"The last several years, it seems like these two teams find ways to win games," Meyer said. "This will be one of those great environments in the SEC. The point is, we better be locked and loaded."

With what's happened in the SEC Championship Game the past two years (a come-from-behind win for the Gators two years ago, followed by a Crimson Tide domination last season), Florida-Alabama has evolved into one of college football's most unique rivalries.

Some are calling it the biggest, at the moment.

"Most rivalries are built out of proximity or history or long-standing relationships," said former NFL quarterback Gary Danielson, who is part of the CBS broadcast team for Saturday night's game. "This rivalry has been born out of greatness. The two teams, their level of play and their excellence on the field has forced each other into a rivalry.

"They are not natural rivals. It's become the premier rivalry in college football because of their excellence of play over the last five years."

The games have been heated and intense, but the rivalry has some distinct civility about it. Players and coaches from both sides seem to have a lot of respect for each other.

Maybe that explains why there has been zero trash talking back-and-forth over the last three seasons.

"There is a lot of respect," Florida defensive end Duke Lemmens said. "I know our two head coaches respect each other a lot. It's not a dirty rivalry at all. It's just two programs that do things well and look forward to playing each other and competing."

Heisman Trophy-winning Tide tailback Mark Ingram agrees.

"It's always a great matchup to play in," Ingram said. "It is always clean, good sportsmanship and I have nothing but respect for Florida. I have nothing but respect for Coach Meyer and the team he is coaching over there at Florida."

Maybe the respect is a reflection of the two coaches. Meyer and Saban have a great deal in common (especially the way they've built championship programs), and they have openly admired each other's work this week.

“Florida is an outstanding team,” Saban said. “They probably have a record of dominance, more than any team in our league, over what they've done in the last few years under Urban Meyer, who is an outstanding coach and does a great job with them. This will be a very challenging game for us and a very challenging preparation for us relative to what they do, but certainly the kind of game that our players should be looking forward to.”

Meyer was asked earlier this week why he and Saban have been so successful over the past decade.

"I think we both recruit pretty well, at a high level," Meyer said. "We watch their players play, and when they call a certain coverage, they perform it really well, because those guys play really well.

"They are well-coached. I always make a point to flip on special teams early in the week to see what you are dealing with, and we all know what we're dealing with — a very well-prepared team."

Knowing Alabama like they do, the Gators know they have to be well-prepared, too, to have a chance to pull off the upset Saturday night.

"What Nick Saban has done at Alabama, the program and prestige he's elevated them to, we have to stick together and everyone has to bring their 'A' game," Brown said. "If we do that, we should be all right."

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com.

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