ATLANTA — With Alabama all but guaranteed a spot in the BCS championship game, the Gators are likely candidates for the Sugar Bowl as the SEC’s next-best team.
But having to accept one of the BCS’s premier bowl games could still be a tough pill to swallow for the defending national champions.
“It’s tough when you set a goal and don’t reach it,” Brandon James said. “You just have to realize everything happens for a reason. We just have to start our next game out on the right foot.”
While Florida has made the BCS title game two of the previous three seasons, it has also had a big disappointment, falling to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl after the 2008 season.
Remembering what it was like to lose on New Year’s Day was one more reason to stay up for the Gators’ next game, James said.
“When you win as many games as we have, and when you lose one, it’s tough,” James said.
“We can’t crumble again now. We just have to get back up and play one more good game this season.”
Florida players said coach Urban Meyer told them to keep their heads up and return to form in what he said would likely be a “great bowl game.”
“The key is how this team is going to respond,” Meyer said. “I’ll let you know. If this team responds like I’m expecting they will, then I’m very proud of them.”
Florida players and coaches said their defense was not its usual self on Saturday, and it might have been due to a noticeable change in the starting lineup.
Carlos Dunlap, the MVP of last season’s BCS championship, was suspended after his DUI arrest in Gainesville, Fla., earlier in the week and did not play Saturday.
As the Gators decried their defensive shortcomings, they stopped short of pointing to Dunlap’s absence as a major factor in the outcome. When asked what kind of impact the Gators lost with the defensive end, Meyer said it was “speculative.”
Gators players said the team’s pass rush fell far short Saturday, and the team managed a single sack against Alabama after accumulating 34 in its previous 12 games. Dunlap sat tied with Jermaine Cunningham atop the Gators’ sacks list with seven, but the way Alabama was playing, Dunlap might not have changed much, Gators corner back Joe Haden said.
“I just don’t really know,” Haden said. “I can’t really say. Maybe he would have made a difference.”
A quick look at the SEC championship’s previous winners shows just how deep the Florida-Alabama rivalry runs.
The teams have met in the title game seven times, more than any other two teams in the league, with Florida holding a 4-3 advantage.
The teams have played for the conference title in 1992, ’93, ’94, ’96, ’99, ’08 and ’09.
Florida leads all SEC teams with 10 appearances and a 7-3 record in the game.
Alabama has faced Florida in each of its seven appearances.
Alabama snapped the Gators’ nation-best 22-game winning streak. … Former Gators players Reidel Anthony (1994-96) and Emmit Smith (1987-89) were on the sideline before the game talking to players and coaches. … The Gators had allowed only a single rushing touchdown in the previous six games before Alabama’s Mark Ingram rushed for three. … Alabama’s 19 first-half points were the most allowed by the Gators this season … The Gators fell in to their biggest deficit of 2009 in the fourth quarter when Alabama went ahead by 19 points.