University of Alabama

Alabama football: Do recent big games against Florida, such as tonight, make Gators a Crimson Tide rival?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Regardless of the year, two constants will land on the Alabama football schedule.

Auburn and Tennessee — the Crimson Tide’s two biggest rivals never will see annual meetings disappear with the current scheduling.

But is there room for another, less regular opponent? Does Florida creep into the discussion as the next biggest rival, or possibly the most significant?

That’s hard to say because they’re scheduled to play so irregularly. The stakes, though, are usually high when the Gators and the Tide meet, which again will be the case when Florida comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium today.

Considering the two met with the SEC title on the line the past two seasons, the question was unavoidable. Are the Gators the most anticipated opponent on the schedule surpassing Auburn?

“Honestly, this team doesn’t circle teams or just hate anybody,” Alabama tight end Preston Dial said. “We just love to win. Right now, this is the team between us and the victory, so that’s our next rivalry.”

The tune is different in Gainesville, Fla., where memories of last December’s 32-13 beating in the SEC championship game are still fresh.

Defensive end Justin Trattou didn’t hesitate when asked about the potential to add another rival to the list that already includes Georgia, Tennessee and Florida State.

“Definitely, the past couple of years, it’s definitely become a huge rivalry,” Trattou said. “Two great programs, two great teams … it’s always bound to be a big game.”

The games may be big, but they haven’t all been close in recent years.

No Florida-Alabama game has been decided by fewer than 10 points since Alabama slipped out of Gainesville with a 40-39 overtime win in 1999. The 2008 SEC title game was contested tightly, but the Gators still won by 11.

And the last time Bryant-Denny Stadium hosted the Gators, the Tide handed Urban Meyer’s Florida team a 31-3 beating that was vacated by the NCAA in the textbook scandal.

But does that make Alabama a rival?

“That’s a great question,” Meyer said. “I don’t know. When I was hired here, I was told there are three great rivals and let’s go as hard as we can and have a little fun with. We’re calling Alabama a great football team that we have had some epic battles with. I think that’s more of what it is.”

That win over Florida in 1999 was also the last time the Tide played its eventual SEC championship game opponent in the regular season. A few months after the narrow win, Alabama cruised to a 34-7 win over the Gators in the Georgia Dome.

The possibility of that happening again, though, is not completely lost on Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy.

“That’s obviously quite a ways down the road,” he said. “But it does change things. It changes the way you know a team. Obviously, you know a team so well throughout the course of one week, I can only imagine how well you’d know a team after two weeks of full, dedicated preparation.”