The Southeastern Conference pecking order was clear in the early 1990s. Alabama was the kingpin and Florida was the up-and-comer.
How times have changed.
Now Florida is the kingpin and Alabama is down and out. The Crimson Tide (2-1, 1-1 SEC) are coming off their worst season in 40 years and worst loss in 41 -- a 42-6 defeat to Arkansas last week.
The eighth-ranked Gators (3-1, 1-1) have won five of six against Alabama under coach Steve Spurrier, including three victories in the SEC Championship Game.
Florida's first visit to Tuscaloosa in eight years might be just another game to the Gators, but for Alabama it represents a potential season-saver. At the least, a win would serve to heal the Tide's wounded pride.
"There's no question that a win would do an awful lot for this program," Tide coach Mike DuBose said. "But I don't think anything we do -- win, lose or draw -- Saturday is going to erase the game of this past Saturday."
Alabama was thoroughly whipped by Arkansas, outgained by more than 200 yards and outscored 28-0 in the second half. Quarterback John David Phillips and tailback Shaun Alexander passed and rushed for 48 yards, respectively.
Florida nearly matched that 36-point margin in 1991, whipping Alabama 35-0 in Gainesville. It was Gene Stallings' second year at the helm, just as this is DuBose's sophomore season.
The Gators have stumbled once already this season, losing 20-17 in overtime to No. 3 Tennessee. That provides little comfort for DuBose.
"They may be the best football team in the country right now," DuBose said.
DuBose invokes hs standard mantra here: tremendous challenge equals tremendous opportunity.
"We have a tremendous to play one of the best teams in the country and earn the right to be called a football team again," he said. "We have to play with a single heartbeat."
Now that Alabama's mystique has been trampled, similar questions are hounding the Gators. Florida didn't make it to the SEC Championship Game last season for the first time and is now playing catch-up with the Volunteers. The Gators have lost three of their last seven conference games.
"You could be asking us if we've lost some of our mystique," said Spurrier, who still points to a 1990 win in Tuscaloosa as the turning point for his program. "Every game stands on its own merit."
Gators receiver Nafis Karim is feeling a little slighted. Even Kentucky came in last week with a little swagger before losing 51-35.
"I think we lost a little respect from teams in the SEC," Karim said. "Kentucky came in here talking like they had a chance to beat us. Alabama had that mystique, too, but then they went through a coaching change."
Dubose's first order in trying to restore that mystique is to make sure there's no encore from last season. The Tide started 2-0 then too, but finished 4-7.
"As far as the attitude of this team, there are no similarities," DuBose said. "The biggest difference is we know where we're going. We know the things that we have to do to become a good football team."
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