Alabama and Florida don’t have a rivalry as much as they do a series. So goes Southeastern Conference football scheduling.
But the teams, which meet Saturday in Tuscaloosa, came to define the early years of the modern SEC.
The Crimson Tide and Gators met in the first three, and four of the first five, SEC championship games, matching upset-minded Florida and brash coach Steve Spurrier against the conference establishment.
The games were grand theatre that helped sell the idea of a league title game, and they produced two national champions: Alabama in 1992 and Florida in 1996.
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But Spurrier, now the South Carolina coach, recalled a regular-season meeting just before the league split into divisions that marked something of a turning point in Gainsville.
“In 1990, we won a close one (17-13) but we got ’em good in The Swamp (35-0) in ’91,” Spurrier said. “It really got us started in Florida. It convinced the players we were good enough to beat almost anybody. Those were huge wins for us.”
The teams have met only 37 times, with the first game in 1916. Seven of those clashes have been in the SEC title game, including the monumental 2008 and 2009 games when the teams were ranked first and second nationally and each went on to win another national championship.
With the conference schedules set through 2025, the teams aren’t scheduled to meet again in the regular season after Saturday until 2021.
As for this matchup, third-ranked Alabama looks to maintain its position among the national elite and the Gators are out to make a major statement. Both have overwhelmed lesser opponents and have engaged in a major tussle.
The Crimson Tide was pushed into the fourth quarter by West Virginia in the opener. The Gators needed three overtimes to subdue Kentucky last weekend.
Offenses look like they’re taking shape, with Blake Sims getting the majority of snaps at quarterback for Alabama and working with one of the nation’s top wide receivers, Amari Cooper. Jeff Driskell is established at Florida and has a superb running back tandem in Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor.
“This is a really, really good football team,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of the Gators.