TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Degrees of motivation and emotion are not exactly quantifiable in conventional terms.
More abstract than concrete, they’re still factors when games mean the most.
Alabama broke the invisible meter on both last December when it throttled Florida 32-13 in the SEC championship game. Prepared and focused with revenge on the brain, the Crimson Tide was a team possessed.
The hunters are now the hunted. Who gets the edge now that the pendulum swung in the other direction?
“Honestly, the approach is relatively similar,” quarterback Greg McElroy said. “The most important game is the next game. That’s the mindset that coach Saban has given us. I think we all understand how important that is. The fact that, really, regardless if you’re the No. 1 team or the No. 35 team or whatever ranking you might be, it’s just important to go out there and put your best foot forward every Saturday.”
The stakes won’t be identical at 8 p.m. Saturday when the Gators come to Bryant-Denny Stadium when the budding rivalry between the SEC’s top power brokers takes a rare turn back to the regular season. Both top-ranked Alabama and No. 7 Florida enter the primetime meeting with spotless 4-0 records and a chance to weaken the other’s hope of a third straight SEC title game meeting.
Alabama safety Robert Lester, the SEC defensive player of the week, said the team can’t take a different approach to this Saturday than it does for any other.
“It’s not like they’re circled on our calendar,” he said. “Every game we play here is important and you never want to lose to a team. We take them one team at a time.”
It could be a matter of pace. This will be the third game in the last four in which Alabama’s participated in arguably the biggest game of the weekend nationally and the second straight with a top-10 opponent. After Florida, a huge road test at South Carolina awaits.
“We know that we’re going to be circled on a lot of people’s schedule,” second-year starting offensive lineman Barrett Jones said. “I don’t say that to be arrogant, but when you do win the national championship game the year before, a lot of teams are going to be gunning for you.
“When you do have success, you’re going to have a lot of people gunning for you. This year, we’re working on still being hungry and still really working hard to be excellent.”
So it’s not exactly the all-or-nothing scenario the scorned Tide faced last December.
But the game has been the subject of talk in Gainesville since practice opened in August. By Monday, Florida players also faced questions about the motivating factors in Saturday’s game.
“It’s revenge,” Gator safety Ahmad Black told reporters in Gainesville. “Even though we’ve got a lot of young guys, there’s also a lot of guys that have been on the team that’s back this year. Like I said, it’s revenge.”
Having so many new starters — 10 in all — does take some of the “remember last year” rallying cry out of the equation, coach Urban Meyer said. He even considered using one day of every preseason week to focus on Alabama, but the inexperience of the young talent meant focusing more on the fundamentals than a Week 5 game.
Note: Depending on this Saturday’s results, the kickoff for the Oct. 9 game at South Carolina will either be the 3:30 p.m. game on CBS or a 7:30 p.m. kickoff on either ESPN or ESPN2.