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September 27, 2010

Despite changes, it's still Alabama-Florida

TUSCALOOSA _ While the University of Alabama football team is publicly trying to downplay this week's visit by Florida as just another challenge, deep down everyone knows it's not.

That's because this time last year the Crimson Tide was still feeling the effects of losing the preceding SEC Championship Game to the Gators, and hungry for a shot at redemption. Now the roles are reversed.

"They're probably going to have a revenge-type mindset," junior safety Mark Barron said.

Actually, there's no doubt about that, with the Gators openly saying as much. It probably took them only seconds after Alabama pulled out that 32-13 victory at the Georgia Dome to circle Oct. 2 on the schedule.

It's only natural, especially considering how important their meetings have been of late, with the previous two winners going on to claim the national championship. Two years ago, Tim Tebow's terrific fourth quarter was the difference, but Alabama came back and tallied 251 rushing yards against the nation's top defense while Greg McElroy completed 12 of 18 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown to be named game MVP.

It was probably the best game of his collegiate career.

"I was watching that film earlier today and I was just in another zone, I was possessed," McElroy said. "It was a great feeling. I think that chip I had on my shoulder that week lent a lot to the success we had on that Saturday."

However, this meeting is different, of course, because it comes during the regular season at a campus site instead of Atlanta -- although that could still happen in a couple of months.

It's not a No. 1 vs. 2 matchup, with Florida having "slipped" to No. 7.

There's no invitation to the BCS Championship Game at stake.

It's not a Heisman Trophy showdown with Tebow having moved on to the National Football League -- one of 16 players between the two schools selected in the most recent draft (Florida nine, Alabama seven).

"This is a matchup that I have the utmost respect for, the Florida team, their players and their coaching staff," said Mark Ingram, even though a Gators defensive lineman called him "no different from any other running back" after the Kentucky win.

To further illustrate how things have changed from last December, Florida ranks 78th nationally in total offense (355.75 average), while Alabama is sixth (511.75).

Both teams have also experienced some early-season growing pains, with Florida's offense not exactly lighting up the scoreboard as expected until last week's 48-14 victory against Kentucky, while Alabama had to come back to win at No. 10 Arkansas.

"We want to get ready to play our best football every game that we play," Coach Nick Saban said. "It's a standard that we want to play to here, and it doesn't really matter if the names 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 with our team. I think the focus for our team is to play their best football and learn what they need to do to continue to improve to be able to do that."

He also said about Florida: "This is as good all-around team as we've played all year."

Still, the Gators are considered an underdog for the first time since Oct. 6, 2007, Tebow's second career start on the road. It was also the only time Florida has visited the nation's No. 1 team, losing to eventual national champion LSU 28-24 (overall UF is 3-7 against No. 1 teams, 2-1 under Urban Meyer).

However, some things are very familiar:

The two undefeated teams remain the conference benchmark, having lost one regular-season game between them since 2007 (Florida to Ole Miss in 2008, 31-30).

Neither quarterback has lost. McElroy is 17-0 starting for Alabama while Florida's John Brantley is 4-0.

There also a number of trademark statistics, like both teams have yielded just one rushing touchdown. Alabama leads the conference in scoring defense, is second in total defense and tops the SEC in scoring offense. Florida is just behind the Tide in all three categories.

"Playing at home I think we'll have the edge," sophomore safety Robert Lester said. "Hopefully we won't start off the like we did the first half against Arkansas."

The bottom line, though, is its still Alabama-Florida, which guarantees another landmark game.

"Last year a lot of guys wanted to avenge that loss, but we have to make sure that we're still hungry this year because we did win last year," sophomore guard Barrett Jones said. "We can't get complacent and satisfied. This team hasn't won anything yet. For this team to achieve its goals this year we have to beat Florida."


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